CHICAGO - He’s the most famous backup catcher since Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker.
He’s bigger than Chicago Cubs stars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo - after all, 10.1 million people tuned in to watch him dance Monday.
David Ross, whose baseball career may have looked ordinary, has grown his post-playing stature to legendary proportions.
You can watch him each week on Dancing with the Stars. You can see him on commercials, two alone with ESPN, the latest filmed Tuesday morning. He was one of the celebrities dining Tuesday night with Eddie Vedder, celebrating Vedder’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. He’ll be a guest on Ellen next week.
He recently did a corporate speaking engagement with Oakland A’s executive vice president Billy Beane. He has a book coming out in May, with a producer buying the movie rights.
“I brush my teeth in the morning, look in the mirror, and say to myself, 'I don’t even know who you are. Who are you?' Ross tells USA TODAY Sports.
“It’s crazy. It’s absolutely nuts.’’
Now, in what will be the most magnificent curtain call of his career, Ross will step out of the Chicago Cubs’ dugout Wednesday night, walk across the field, and receive that glorious 108-diamond World Series championship ring.
It will be the ultimate sendoff for a journeyman who hit a home run in Game 7 of the World Series, was carried off the field by his teammates, and wept on the World Series parade route stage in front of 5 million people.
“It will be a closing of a chapter for me,’’ Ross says. “My baseball career finally ends. It’s kind of a finality for me.’’
For a man who got through a singing performance on Saturday Night Live and dances with aplomb on national TV every week, this is the moment that could leave him completely unglued.
He got choked up last week when World Series MVP Ben Zobrist took a video at their team dinner in St. Louis while watching his DWTS performance, cried watching the World Series banner go up Monday night and now is bracing himself for a tidal wave of feelings.
“It will be a huge emotional ride,’’ Ross says. “I just hope I don’t get too emotional, because then it takes over. I hate when I do that. I just want to enjoy it, take the moment in, and just feel the love from all of the fans and the people.
“It will be great to feel like one of the guys again.’’
Ross couldn’t be at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field opener, spending the evening on stage in Los Angeles doing a waltz. Still, he was a huge part of their celebration, with his performance shown on Wrigley Field's massive HD screen during a rain delay. The sellout crowd wildly cheered every step, and when the performance was over, they reached for their cellphones and started punching in their votes, making sure he would survive another week.
“I originally wasn’t even going to go on Dancing with the Stars," Ross said, “because I wasn’t going to miss that ring ceremony. I thought it was going to be on opening night, not their second home game. But I told them that if it was going to interfere, there was no way I was going to do the show.
“It’s that important to me.’’
It means just as much to the Cubs that Ross is there, knowing that sheer statistics could never possibly define his magnitude.
“He was a big part of what happened here, and why it happened,’’ Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber says. “To have him come back and be with the boys again, not as a front office member, but as a teammate, is great.
“He’s going to be remembered forever in Cubs history, and he’ll forever be in our hearts for what he meant to us as a human being.’’
Ross will never play again, but he’ll be one of their bosses when his dancing gig is up. He was hired in January by the Cubs to be a special assistant in baseball operations, where he plans to scout, and even be in their draft room in June. He also was hired as an analyst by ESPN, where he’s scheduled to work his first game next month when the Boston Red Sox play the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
The trouble these days is finding the time to do his real jobs, with daily six-hour rehearsals, the latest for a new Jive dance routine that’ll be performed to a song featured in an upcoming Disney movie.
Ross, 40, has lost 9 pounds since joining the show. His dance partner, Lindsay Arnold, predicts he could lose another 9 pounds this week while practicing their strenuous new routine.
“My feet are killing me,’’ Ross says, “but I’m having the time of my life. It’s a way more fun journey than I thought it would be. I thought it would be embarrassing being up there dancing, but I didn’t know how much enjoyment I would get out of each dance.
“I tell Lindsay, 'I’ve already got two championships (also winning with the Red Sox in 2013). I need to get you one now. I want you to hold that trophy at the end.’ ’’
Considering what has happened in Ross’ life over the last year, does anyone have a doubt he’ll win this competition, too?
“I watch it every night, and if I can’t see it live, I’m recording it,’’ Bryant says. “We’re all rooting for him, and voting for him as much as I can. I’m proud to call him a teammate. Whatever he does in life, you know he’s going to be successful.’’
Ross, who spent 15 years in the major leagues playing for seven teams, certainly is a major-league manager in waiting. Who knows, maybe a general manager, too? Team president?
As of now, he doesn't even have enough time to plan for his future.
“All I know is that I want to soak this all in,’’ Ross says. “To be a backup catcher, and get all of this great love and appreciation that continues to pour out, it’s overwhelming.
“Every day I wake up I can’t believe I’m doing this, I’m doing that. I’ve never had to look at a calendar so many times in my life. I’m busier now when I was playing.
“The fruits of that championship keep going on, but I know one day it will all come to an end.’’
Maybe his calendar will lighten one day, but Wednesday night, there’s a championship ring to put on, the seventh-inning stretch to sing, and one final night with the old gang, reminiscing about a magical season they will never forget.
“My first sad moment since I retired was watching them play their season-opener in St. Louis,’’ Ross says, “just wishing I was there. It’s the first time I really missed it. Now, I get to be part of it one last time, and seeing all of those fans again. They fell in love with us, and we fell in love with them.
“So to see my teammates, the look on the fans’ faces, and experiencing it all one last time, come on. How can I not get emotional?