On June 25, 2004, Robin Ventura took the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ninth inning of a 13-0 loss to the then Anaheim Angels.
It was Ventura’s lone pitching appearance in his big league career, one that ended that season after 16 years.
And who was behind the plate? Current Cubs catcher David Ross, who’s in the final season of his own lengthy major league career and who experienced quite the moment on Sunday night. In the Cubs’ final regular-season home game, a packed Wrigley Field stood in recognition of the backup catcher and his career ahead of each of his three plate appearances — the second of which ended in a solo home run — and then again when manager Joe Maddon lifted him from the game in the seventh inning.
The roaring ovations were unusual for a backup catcher who’s batting .233 (after hitting just .176 last season on the North Side), but according to Ventura — a teammate of Ross’ in L.A. in 2003 and 2004 — they were absolutely deserved.
“It’s great. Anything he gets I think is great,” Ventura said. “Not often do you see a backup catcher with such a response. But he’s a different guy, and he’s earned that. They wouldn’t do that if he didn’t deserve it. Inside their clubhouse, that’s probably where it comes from, and then it exudes outside, spills over outside of that. I’m sure I’ll talk to him in the offseason.”
Ross hasn’t received a city-by-city sendoff the likes of which Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, David Ortiz and even White Sox legend Paul Konerko have received in recent years. But he sure has enjoyed his final season in the big leagues. And he might enjoy it further as the Cubs have the best record in baseball and World Series expectations.
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Ventura had his own final season in the bigs a dozen years ago, and he was the manager during Konerko’s final year in 2014.
“I know a little bit of what he’s going through. But when a guy is at the end and he knows he’s at the end, you can have a little more fun,” Ventura said. “Paulie had some of that his last year where you can exert some energy elsewhere. And it’s still fun, and you spread it around the clubhouse a little bit more than you do just as a player.”
It might be difficult for fans who haven’t closely followed the Cubs over the past two seasons to figure out why Ross has become so beloved. But as Ross’ former teammate, Ventura understands.
“Numbers-wise, he’s not going to jump out off the page to you. But the guys that play in there understand what he brings to it,” Ventura said. “It’s hard to sit there and for people to understand that, as grueling as the season is and the personalities are in that clubhouse. But when you’re talking about a guy that’s played as long as he has, been on some winning teams and continues to bring the enjoyment and really the boyish stuff that he brings. And that’s part of his charm is there’s still a kid in there, even at 40 — what is he? — he looks like 48. There’s a kid in there, and that comes out when you see him or you’re around him.”
So back to that pitching appearance. Ventura fared just fine, giving up just one hit in a scoreless ninth inning. Ross must’ve been calling a good game, right?
“He never put down a signal,” Ventura said. “I didn’t throw hard enough for him to put down a signal.”