Ross picks baseball over dream to be rodeo clown

October 14, 2010

For a good chunk of his childhood, Cody Ross wanted to be a rodeo clown.

Son of a team roper and steer wrestler, he would dress up with the big red nose and sit in the stands during weekend events across Texas and New Mexico. Sometimes, he got to go behind the scenes to meet the stars of the ring.

Now, San Francisco's reliable right fielder is perfectly happy helping his team play deep into October. It's the first time many of the Giants have gone this far - this is Ross' first rodeo, too.

He made the career change to baseball around age 10. No clowning around.

''Maybe one of these days when I'm done playing I can go back and rekindle that,'' Ross joked as the Giants prepared for their NL championship series against the Phillies starting Saturday in Philadelphia. ''In the back of my mind I knew what I wanted to do when I got older and as a career. I wanted to be a professional baseball player. It's the only thing I ever wanted to do after I wanted to be a rodeo clown.''

It's been quite a ride for Ross this year. Acquired Aug. 22 from the Marlins on a waiver claim, he had no idea what role he would serve on the Giants' outfield-heavy roster. He'd been a full-time player for Florida for three years.

Yet Ross stayed patient and went about his business to get to this place, agreeing to do whatever manager Bruce Bochy needed. He was determined not to be a distraction as the new guy.

That very attitude by Ross and his teammates is a big reason the Giants are playing for a chance to go to the World Series. San Francisco made it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and advanced to the NLCS for the first time since slugger Barry Bonds led them to the 2002 World Series and a runner-up finish against the wild-card Angels.

''Coming in I'd played every day,'' Ross said. ''We had to all come together and realize there was one thing that we were all shooting for, which was to win. It didn't matter about the personal stuff, put the egos and personal statistics aside and worry about one thing. We did, and I think that's one of the main reasons why we're here. We weren't selfish.''

Ross made only 17 starts in his 33 regular-season games with San Francisco and batted .288 with three home runs and seven RBIs. But Bochy named him the starting right fielder in the NL division series against Atlanta in place of the injured Jose Guillen.

Ross thanked the skipper for the chance.

The 29-year-old Ross made good on the opportunity, all right. He went 4 for 14 with a homer and three RBIs in the four games against the Braves, including hitting a home run and driving in the go-ahead run with a two-out single in the seventh inning of Monday's clincher.

''Hopefully over the last couple of weeks Giants fans can finally see what I'm really about,'' Ross said. ''When I got here I knew the situation with all the outfielders. I knew it was going to be spot starts and coming off the bench. I was fine with that.''

Ross has come a long way since his early days dreaming of a dangerous future as a rodeo clown, the person who lures the bulls away from fallen riders to protect them from the bucking animals.

Ross used to travel with his father, Kenny, who worked as a ''chiropractor by day and cowboy by night,'' his son said. Ross sported the full clown suit with handkerchiefs hanging from his sides, makeup, baggy pants and all.

''The whole skit,'' he said.

''I can see that. He's nimble, he's quick,'' Bochy said of Ross' former plan. ''That's a tough job. It's a dangerous job. You ever seen them work, rodeo clowns? They're the guys that help out the bull riders and get the bulls away. They put their life in jeopardy trying to save the rodeo guys. I'd like to see him in one of those barrels running around trying to get the bull away.''

His dad eventually sold his horses and moved the family to Dallas from Ross' native New Mexico. Cody quickly took to baseball - and his father accepted the switch.

Still, Ross said he might one day get in the rodeo business and buy some bulls of his own.

''When I was younger that's all I wanted to do, be a rodeo clown. I guess I thought that riding the bull was too dangerous,'' Ross said. ''Actually being a rodeo clown is probably a little more dangerous than that. You have to protect the guy from getting stepped on and run over. I just liked the way they were, maybe it was the mentality they had, no fear. That was probably the reason I was so drawn to them.''

Perhaps that same mentality aided Ross in his transition to the Giants. He wasted no time reaching out to his new teammates this summer.

When he arrived in the home clubhouse at AT&T Park nearly two months ago, among the first things Ross did was greet the pitchers and tell them how thrilled he was not to have to face them anymore.

''Coming in, everyone knew he was a really good player and knew he had the potential to contribute,'' catcher Buster Posey said. ''He's been huge for us. He'll probably continue to be.''