In a span of either one moment or 108 years, David Ross transformed from anonymous to immortal.
The moment was the end of Game 7 of last year’s World Series, which the Cubs won in extra innings with help from Ross’ sixth-inning home run against Cleveland’s Andrew Miller. A couple hours later, he retired.
The Hollywood ending gave Ross a hero status he couldn’t have achieved with any other team in any other moment. The Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908 and Ross became the hottest ticket in town, a favorite everywhere he went.
“It’s definitely been different walking through the airports, especially as much as I travel now,” the 40-year-old Ross said by phone Monday afternoon. “Even in my hometown (Bainbridge, Ga.), it’s been different - I get recognized a lot more - but in a good way. I’ve never experienced anything like that, having that much attention. It’s different, but I’m embracing it.”
Ross joined ESPN as an analyst. He gave commencement speeches to college students. He earned fame with a new audience by finishing second on Dancing With The Stars. He said yes to playing for the Kansas Stars in the National Baseball Congress World Series this week.
Not a bad second act for someone who spent his 15-year major-league career in perhaps the least glamorous position in baseball - backup catcher.
“Going from being a role player on a couple good teams, and then winning a world championship in Chicago, it’s like the holy grail of championships,” Ross said. “How those fans and my teammates and that organization treated me, I don’t even have the words to be honest with you. ‘Awesome’ doesn’t even do it justice.”
Even though he played in just 67 regular-season games last season, Ross became a focal point for the Cubs. He announced his retirement prior to the season and as the Cubs advanced in the playoffs, his story became intertwined with theirs.
His career ended when the Kris Bryant fielded a grounder in the 11th inning and threw to Anthony Rizzo for the final out. His teammates carried Ross off the field, an ending that, at least in the moment, came close to overshadowing the team accomplishment.
“What a crazy series it was in general,” Ross said. “Knowing that when you come to that spot in your career and you know that you’re going to retire, you feel so thankful being in a World Series. To get an opportunity to play in Game 7 is truly unique, no matter when it is in your career.
“For me it was very much about the game. I didn’t focus on me or my career, I really tried to focus on the game. I would have time to reflect on my career later - I really wanted to win the game and put all I had into that game.”
Ross has approached his post-baseball life with similar zeal. He is a favorite on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecasts, which draws a fraction of the viewership compared to his breakout television appearance.
On May 23, Ross competed, with partner Lindsay Arnold, in the finals of Dancing with the Stars. Ross and Arnold danced to “Living” by Bakermat on the show’s final night against former NFL running back Rashad Jennings and Emma Slater. Ross’ 36 from four judges fell short of Jennings’ perfect 40.
“I lost like 15 pounds,” Ross said. “It was a great experience, a lot of hard work. It actually taught me a lot about myself and how to push through the frustration. In baseball, you get used to the things you fail at and you try to work at them and you have your ways to try and get better. (Dancing) was something I had never done before, I had no experience in.
“To go out there and be vulnerable in front of that many people once a week, live, you can fall right on your face. It definitely tests you as a person and tests your nerves and your work ethic and your ability to pick things up.”
Ross was the first former major-league player on the show. His run of once-in-a-lifetime experiences started the previous fall when the Cubs captured the Series, and it may not be over yet.
“I’ve had so many great opportunities come my way and things I can’t turn down,” Ross said. “They’re such rare, unique opportunities to do this stuff. I’m super thankful for all of that. Everybody was like, ‘I thought you were going to retire,’ and I’m like, well, these are things you can’t turn down. It all starts with Game 7 of the World Series.”
NBC World Series
U.S. National Team vs. Mulvane Patriots, 1 p.m.
Seattle Studs vs. San Antonio Angels, 3:30 p.m.
Hays Larks vs. Cheney Diamond Dawgs, 7 p.m.
San Diego Waves vs. Wellington Heat, 9:30 p.m.