PHILADELPHIA – The kid who wanted to become a rodeo clown grew up to be the man who knocked off Doc Halladay(notes). That’s the Cody Ross(notes) story in a nutshell, but his journey from the West Texas frontier to big-city baseball stadiums involves more.
Why the interest in Ross on this day? Well, he belted two home runs off seemingly unhittable Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy (Doc) Halladay to trigger a 4-3 San Francisco Giants victory Saturday night in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. That’s the same Halladay who no-hit the Cincinnati Reds in his last start, the same Halladay who tossed a perfect game in May against a Florida Marlins lineup that included none other than Cody Ross.
Yes, Ross has been all over this land, bounding around ballfields like a white-tailed deer and wearing what’s got to be the widest grin in the game. He’s played on five teams in seven seasons and has been with the Giants only since being claimed on waivers Aug. 22 in a strategic move designed to keep him from joining the San Diego Padres. The Giants didn’t need him; they had an abundance of outfielders.
None of that dampened his spirit. Ross longs to be the hero. He wants to save the day. He has been that way since he was 5, tagging along behind his steer-wrestler dad on the rodeo circuit from Las Cruces, N.M., to Amarillo, Texas. Every day, Ross applied his eye paint and pulled on baggy jeans, suspenders and oversized shoes.
“I was drawn to the clowns because they were fearless,” he said. “They would put their lives on the line to save a cowboy.”
He never became one. His family moved to Dallas when he was 10 and “my dad sold the horses.” Baseball became his new passion, and soon he was on a different sort of traveling circuit, bouncing from city to city on elite club teams.
Ross got so good he became a fourth-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1999. After five minor league seasons he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and after two more mostly minor league seasons was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds. A month later he was sold to the Marlins, and finally earned a spot in a big league lineup.
He wasn’t a star, but he could turn on a fastball and hit it into the seats, could run a little bit and field his position. He improved enough that the miserly Marlins couldn’t afford him and placed him on waivers so a contending team could take him off their hands and pay the last $1 million of his $4.45 million contract.
Ross is due a raise to the $6 million range for 2011, his last arbitration year before becoming a free agent. Because of their surplus of outfielders, the Giants weren’t sure whether to keep him at that pay rate or cut him loose – non-tender him, in baseball parlance. After his heroics against Halladay, their decision is made for them.
“You know the answer to that,” general manager Brian Sabean said, chuckling.
Sabean reflected on how Ross became a Giant. The Padres were in first place in the NL West and wanted Ross to shore up their anemic lineup and fill an opening in left field. The Giants blocked the Padres’ move by claiming him themselves, and when the Marlins declined to pull Ross off the waiver wire, he was San Francisco-bound.
“The Marlins wanted to save the $1 million,” Sabean said. “We got the player. He’s a good every-day player and he’s done great things for us. We were fortunate.”
After he got over the initial shock of being placed on waivers by the Marlins, Ross anticipated helping the Padres. Then he realized he was going to the Giants, where Pat Burrell(notes) was the left fielder, Andres Torres(notes) the center fielder, and three other players shared time in right field.
“We had a lot of experienced outfielders and some guys on the bench that were used to playing every day,” he said. “We all just came together. We all checked our egos at the door and put the personal statistics aside and went out there and played as a team.”
Ross started slowly with his new team but delivered several key hits as the Giants overtook the Padres the last week of the regular season. In Game 4 of the division series against the Atlanta Braves, he blasted a home run in the sixth inning to end Derek Lowe’s(notes) no-hit bid and tie the score.
The Giants went on to win and now they're three victories from their first World Series berth since 2002. They have never won it all since moving to San Francisco in 1958. To do so as underdogs against the Phillies and then either the New York Yankees or Texas Rangers would take heroics from more than just Cody Ross.
But he set a terrific example. Depositing Roy Halladay(notes) fastballs into the left-field stands on consecutive at-bats just isn’t done. Unless, it turns out, the hitter is as fearless as a rodeo clown.