Ross isn’t clowning around in playoffs
Cody Ross recalls looking each into the eyes of each Marlins official — club president David Samson, general manager Larry Beinfest, interim manager Edwin Rodriguez.
“You’re making the wrong decision,” he said.
At that moment on Aug. 22, Ross did not even know exactly what the decision was. The Marlins, he said, had told him only that he was going to the Giants, and that they were moving in a different direction.
Ross, 29, figured he had been traded. When he found out later that he was let go on a waiver claim — let go for nothing but a savings of $1.1 million — he became, in his own words, “bitter and upset.”
“A slap in the face,” Ross called it as he walked out of Citizens Bank Park on a cool October evening.
Suffice it to say, Ross is getting the last laugh.
Two home runs Saturday night. Two home runs off Phillies ace Roy Halladay. Two home runs in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, and a stunning 4-3 victory for the Giants.
On a night that will be remembered most for Tim Lincecum’s triumph over Halladay, the Giants started three position players who arrived in non-descript moves during the regular season — left fielder Pat Burrell, third baseman Mike Fontenot and Ross. They also got two big outs from left-hander Javier Lopez, a reliever whose addition on July 31 was practically an afterthought in the deadline trading frenzy.
“If you look at this team, we have some characters here, you know, whether you want to call them castoffs or misfits,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I compare them to the Dirty Dozen. That’s the way they play but they’ve coalesced into a team that goes out there to win.”
First baseman Aubrey Huff, perhaps the best free-agent bargain of last offseason, remarked to a club official afterward that it was a typical Giants victory, a one-run nailbiter. Huff then stripped down to his trademark red-thong underwear and paraded through the clubhouse.
The post-Bonds Giants are defined by their core of homegrown talent – Lincecum, catcher Buster Posey, starting pitchers Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. But the 2010 team is indeed a fascinating, rollicking collection of veterans and youngsters alike.
“There’s a new hero every day,” Lincecum said. “It equalizes out through the team, makes us more of a whole. It helps chemistry, makes us flow together. Considering how many new faces there are, it’s easy, free-flowing. Everyone gets along.”
Ross is one of the more intriguing stories, and not simply because of the unusual nature of his arrival. The Giants claimed him in part to block the Padres from getting him. Ross said he looked at the Giants’ roster and thought immediately, “they don’t need me.”
Actually, they did.
Ross, in the words of general manager Brian Sabean, was an “all-around player.” Translation: He could play defense. Center fielder Andres Torres was the only other regular Giants outfielder who was above-average in that regard.
The thing the Giants didn’t know — the thing that was difficult to know from afar — is that Ross is one tough-minded player. Bochy said it in his postgame interview: Ross grew up wanting to be a rodeo clown.
Or, as Ross put it, “a rodeo clown slash bullfighter.”
For the uninitiated, a rodeo clown is a rodeo performer who works in bull riding competitions. The clown’s primary job, according to the Wikipedia definition, is to protect a fallen rider by distracting the bull.
It’s a heck of a lot more dangerous than facing Roy Halladay — or any other pitcher, for that matter.
“Those guys are fearless — they have no fear,” Ross said. “To go out there and put your life on the line for a cowboy . . . that was intriguing to me.”
Ross’ father worked in rodeos as a steer wrestler, and Cody would tag along with him to various stops in Texas. Cody had the clown makeup, the whole getup. But his father did not want Cody joining the rodeo. The family moved to Dallas when Cody was eight, and the kid found a new passion: Baseball.
He grew up a “huge” Texas Rangers fan and remembers a third-grade teacher asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up. They happened to be attending a baseball game at the time. Cody nodded toward the field.
“I want to play down there,” he said.
To this day, his goal remains unchanged. He bounced from team to team early in his career – he was in the Dodgers’ organization at the same time as the Phillies’ Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino. With the Marlins, he started as a fourth outfielder and worked his way into an everyday role – sort of like he has with the Giants.
“I’ve said all along, this guy can play,” Burrell said. “Defensively, he’s unbelievable. Not to mention, his whole career is at stake here. He’s a young guy. Everyone is out there for him still. There’s some hunger in that.”
Ross is earning $4.45 million this season. The Marlins were unlikely to tender him a contract and risk giving him another raise in arbitration. The Giants almost certainly will want him back, perhaps at a lower salary on a multi-year deal.
All of those issues are for November or December. This is October, and Ross has hit three home runs in his last two postseason games. Reporters keep asking Bochy when he will move his new slugger up from the No. 8 spot. Bochy keeps responding: “Why mess with it?”
On the FOX broadcast after the game, I asked Ross about his 2010 journey, starting the season with the Marlins, coming to the Giants on a waiver claim and now starring in the playoffs.
“I can’t explain with it my words,” he said.
His performance says enough.