Joe Ross often had an itch to throw around 11:30 p.m., after he was done watching others do what he had for most of his 27 years: play baseball.
Ross chose not to play in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, forfeiting his salary and the daily routine his family is ingrained with. He stayed home while the Nationals floundered through a 60-game season.
“With the medical professionals in my family -- my parents, my sisters, some close family friends -- it kind of made sense to take this as seriously as you could,” Ross said Friday. “There were a lot of unanswered questions going into it. And still, not that we know everything now obviously, but the initial shock value of what was happening kind of added up with a few other things and decided to take time away, which is always hard to do.”
Ross was in the mix to be the fifth starter if a normal climate held. The competition between him, Erick Fedde and a third contender -- Austin Voth in 2020 -- almost appears to be a rite of passage each spring.
“I feel like in the past you couldn’t drag me off the field unless I literally couldn’t throw a baseball,” Ross said. “To sideline myself is a little bit different this year.”
Ross was on a Zoom call with reporters to promote his upcoming work with The Players Alliance, a group of more than 100 former and current Black Major League Players, who are part of the “Pull Up Neighbor” campaign:
“The Players Alliance is investing ONE MILLION DOLLARS to support communities of color in a safe, socially distant and responsible capacity, while providing them with the resources they need most this winter. Their needs are great, so our efforts must be greater. In order to institute significant changes, we need to be able to pull up to as many Black communities as possible to help give folks the resources they need, whether it be food, aid, comforts, and of course, access to equipment and spaces to play baseball.”
Ross will be attending multiple events in Oakland. Nationals utility player Josh Harrison will be doing the same in Cincinnati. The local event will be Saturday from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at the Temple of Praise on 700 Southern Ave. SE in Washington.
While he was home, Ross began to use social media more frequently to comment on social justice issues which roiled the country throughout the summer. Overall across the league, more conversations were had internally and externally about social justice, minorities in baseball and how players could do something with their platforms to help resolve persistent societal problems. Ross waded in.
“I just feel like with all the things, really, that happened this year -- I mean, not that they haven’t been happening in the past -- but since we haven’t had much going on, we’ve been locked down, you’re kind of forced to be inside, you see a lot of things, some instincts have kind of come to light more than in times past,” Ross said. “It felt like the time to speak up and really use my voice while I can. I’m not around playing, which was different. It was a little difficult. But like I said earlier, collectively, everyone kind of had each other’s back, not so much feeling like because I’m speaking up, I’m alone.
“Back when, I think it was 2017, when Bruce Maxwell first was taking the knee during the anthem, he was the only one doing it. I think that him being the lone kind of soldier on that affected the outcome a little bit. Had I gone back, I think everyone would have maybe acted differently or supported him a little bit more than we did. I feel like now is kind of the time to kind of come together. Obviously, we’re seeing these things that are happening, and it’s kind of time to use the platform that I have. I’m not the biggest social media guy in general, but I felt like using my platform how I could while I’m away from the field, that was kind of my voice to have while I’m not kind of in the clubhouse or things like that.”
Ross said his offseason routine will be the same. He’s unsure how the break for his pitching arm will manifest in the spring beyond a high level of adrenaline when facing live batters again. He worked out in the garage, threw with his brother, Tyson, and tried not to “turn into too much of a couch potato, so to speak.”
Though he didn’t play, Ross said he never second-guessed his decision. He watched games and often felt the urge to go throw. But, he trusted his gut enough that not playing became the proper decision for him. In the same vein, he said he is set to come back in 2021, show up at spring training and compete for a rotation spot once again. Until then, he’ll be heard from more off the field than in years past.