PHOENIX — It is one of the most remarkable catches in recent history, YouTube-able still. Running full speed, Bo Jackson caught a long fly ball in center field and instead of ramming into the wall scaled it with three quick steps — right, left right — before alighting back on the warning track, leaving cleat marks in the padded fence at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium.
Diamondbacks outfielder Cody Ross has been linked to Jackson since suffering a hip injury similar to Jackson’s — except worse — last August.
These days, another comparison comes to mind. Ross’ recovery has the feel of the Bo-Jackson catch of recoveries; it has been that special.
"Unreal," manager Kirk Gibson said.
Ross has made so much progress in his rehabilitation that the D-backs have been forced — and pleased — to keep pushing forward their projections on his return. At the winter meetings, it was April or May. A week ago, it was April, maybe by the start of the regular season.
On Saturday, as Ross looked on from the first-base dugout, general manager Kevin Towers told an audience at D-backs FanFest at Chase Field that Ross might be prepared to play in the season-opening series against the Dodgers in Australia on March 22.
Ross and the Diamondbacks have been careful not to set a timeline other than that he be healthy enough to attack a full season when he returns. If that does not include the trip to Australia, so be it.
His goal is more long term: He is shooting to be the National League comeback player of the year. The way his right hip has recovered, he could have almost a full season to nail that down. When that was mentioned at FanFest, the crowd cheered.
"That’s sort of the ultimate gratification, I guess, after putting in so much hard work and effort through the offseason is to get back on the field and help my team on an everyday basis," Ross said. "To have a chance to not only help the team but be comeback player (of the year), that’s a great goal."
Ross, who turned 33 in December, has the resume for it. He has three seasons of 20-plus home runs, including 22 with the Red Sox in 2012, and two seasons of at least 80 RBIs. He has always been potent against left-handers, hitting .297 against them in his carer and .391 against them last season.
Manager Kirk Gibson has a lot of time to determine how he will use Ross when he returns, but it seems safe to assume Ross will be a primary option in an outfield that includes newcomer Mark Trumbo and returnees Gerardo Parra and A.J. Pollock. Pollock took advantage of early injuries last season to develop into the starter in center field; Ross has experience in all three spots and has started in center field more than any other outfield spot in his career.
Ross hit .278 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs in 94 games last season and seemed to his his stride just before the injury, when he suffered a fractured and dislocated hip on Aug. 4 while attempting to beat out a play at first base in the first inning of game against the Mets. He still has the steel plate and screws in place. He hit .350 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 18 games after the All-Star break, and after the start of July, when he finally began seeing almost everyday time, he hit .321 with a .903 OPS. Ross had played in 31 of 35 games before the injury.
Ross has worked diligently since beginning weight-bearing exercises Nov. 4, and even before that he was around the D-backs’ facility doing cardio and conditioning. He has progressed to hitting in the batting cage, playing golf and jogging. He spends time daily on the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill, a device that reduces stress on joints while permitting normal exercise, and he was working at 80 percent of his body weight this week; that will increase to 90 percent next week.
"I think you have to give everybody credit," Ross said, citing his operating surgeon, local physical therapist Robb Blackaby and the Diamondbacks’ training staff.
"Rehab has gone as good as we could possibly want it to," Ross said. "We’ve not pushed it too much, but at the same time we’ve been having such good results that we are little further ahead than everybody anticipated. We’re going take our time still, make sure we are 100 percent — protocol.
"The last thing we want to do is set goals, but you have to. You have to set goals to be able to push and get to where you want to be," Ross said.
"I’m trying to be smart about it. It would be awesome to be ready for Sydney, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to play for the majority of all of the season. It’s going great, that’s for sure."