He’s not quite a national monument. That label belongs to the other entity from Carlsbad, N.M.: the caverns. “It’s a pretty neat experience,” Cody Ross said of visiting his hometown attraction. “Especially as you get older.
“As a kid, I didn’t appreciate it as much.”
This from a ballplayer who in his career was not appreciated at all — until early last autumn.
Then at age 30, in his 12th season of professional ball and with his fifth major-league organization, Ross — all smiles and timely hitting — became a star of the postseason for the Giants.
His 2011 is already off to a much different start as reports surfaced Thursday that Ross would likely miss the first few weeks of the season after straining his calf Wednesday.
But in 2010, he became the man in right who was rarely wrong.
He became one of the players the Giants were compelled to re-sign.
It’s a delightful tale, with Ross being selected on waivers in August from Florida, then becoming the MVP of the National League Championship Series.
From expendable to dependable. From nobody to hero.
“Obviously,” Ross said “[it’s] the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
So many angles, and because of the way he performed, they’ve all been explored. The attempt to become a rodeo clown when he was a boy. “You want to talk about that again?” he said in mock horror.
The constant shifting from club to club to club. According to the San Jose Mercury News, by the time Ross was 25, he had 2,603 at-bats as a pro, but only 44 of them in the big leagues.
“I went from playing, finally, for one team for 4½ years,” he said of his tenure with the Florida Marlins, “and all of a sudden, I’m gone. But then on a team that’s competing for a playoff spot, then in the playoffs.
“Never did I think in July I’d be in that situation.”
Ross was a Baseball America All-American in 1999 at Carlsbad High School and picked by Detroit in the fourth round of the amateur draft. The long, slow climb to nowhere had started.
Oh, he made it to the Tigers in 2003. For six games. Then he was traded to the Dodgers, who dispatched him to the minors again. After that, it was Cincinnati and in 2006 the Marlins. He was feisty — tossing his bat after homers — at 5-foot-10, small by major-league standards.
“You pour your heart and soul into an organization,” he said about Florida giving up on him, “and all of a sudden, ‘See ya.’ It’s almost like a slap in the face.”
To which Ross responded by slapping baseballs over fences or between fielders. And Giants general manager Brian Sabean slapped himself on the head for his good fortune.
The Padres were in first place in the NL West and wanted Ross. The Giants blocked the move by claiming him themselves. And when the Marlins declined to pull Ross off waivers, the Giants had him. Whether they wanted him or not.
“The Marlins wanted to save a million dollars,” Sabean said of Florida’s decision not to pay the last $1 million of Ross $4.45 million contract. “We got the player. He’s a good everyday player, and he’s done great things for us. We were fortunate.”
Ross assuredly thinks the same about himself.
“When you’re coming up and trying to prove yourself,” Ross said of a hyper, aggressive style now lessened, “you want people to see you’re giving every ounce of effort you can. But I’d crash into things, cost the team runs with bad decisions, miss the cutoff man.
“You get so amped up to make every possible play you can to stay in the big leagues.”
Ross’ father, Kenny, is 6-foot-4 and played football at the University of New Mexico, but several knee surgeries kept him from advancing to the NFL. Kenny wrestled steers in the rodeo, then sold horses. It was a sporting family.
And now a very successful one.
“I spent the winter traveling back and forth between San Francisco and New Mexico and Phoenix, where I live now,” Cody Ross said. “I got the key to my home city, Carlsbad. I got proclamations from mayors, senators and governors.”
Giants fans came up to him, as to others on San Francisco’s first World Series champion team, and told Ross, “Thanks.”
“I tell them, ‘Thank you,’” he said.
That about sums it up for all concerned.
The San Francisco Examiner will profile a series of Giants players leading up to the season opener against the Dodgers on March 31.
Outfielder Cody Ross
First baseman Aubrey Huff
Shortstop Miguel Tejada
Pitcher Barry Zito
Catcher Buster Posey