SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Giants are the defending champions and the Dodgers are printing legal tender. But the Arizona Diamondbacks expect to be relevant in the NL West race, too.
And one Arizona player in particular can’t wait to step into AT&T Park for the first time in 2013.
“Oh, I’m sure the fans will … uh, well, I guess I’m not so sure,” said Cody Ross, smiling as usual while standing in Sedona red near his locker at Salt River Fields. “They’ll cheer for me, maybe?
“I would hope they would cheer when they announce my name, and then maybe I’ll do something like hit a home run and they’ll boo me every time after that. Like Pat Burrell did when he went back to Philly, right?”
It’s hard to imagine Giants fans turning suddenly on Ross, one of the central characters in the 2010 band of misfits who stormed to a most unexpected World Series title. That playoff run turned 25 men into instant folk heroes, and Ross, that mutton-busting, ever-smiling outfielder, will rank as one of the most exalted for his incredible NLCS MVP performance that included a two-homer game against Roy Halladay.
Ross wasn’t as successful in 2011 and he signed a one-year pillow contract with the Boston Red Sox last year. Although it turned out to be a toxic and turbulent season at Fenway Park, Ross managed to square up enough baseballs to fetch a three-year, $26 million deal with Arizona.
The year in Boston was helpful in more ways than one. Ross acknowledged it would’ve been tougher to cut the cord if he’d jumped straight to another NL West rival.
“You look at Juan Uribe and how he jumped over to the Dodgers and there was some grumbling, I guess you could say, over that,” Ross said. “What we did together was so fresh in everybody’s minds. We’d all love to play for one team, but that doesn’t happen too often anymore. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for San Francisco and what we did. But the time for me to go and to experience Boston was a whole other story.
“Now, to be back in the NL West is huge for me.”
He’ll face the Giants 19 times as part of a revamped Arizona lineup that should terrorize left-handed pitchers. Ross and Jason Kubel always have done damage against lefties.
Ross has his share of homers against right-handers, too – including one that Matt Cain hasn’t forgotten.
“Sure, I disliked him,” said Cain, smiling.
The story has been told a time or two: The first time Ross walked through the Giants clubhouse after the team claimed him off waivers from Florida in August, 2010, he made the rounds shaking hands. Then he approached Cain’s locker, where the pitcher sat and gave him an icy stare.
“Could you have flipped your bat any further?” said Cain, who had given up a two-run shot when he faced Ross a few weeks earlier at AT&T Park.
Cain smiles when he remembers that greeting.
“You watch him on the field and, you know, he’s got his share of antics,” Cain said. “If you don’t know him, you think he’s cocky, a little arrogant. But the other thing I always noticed about him is he always played hard. He ran everything out. You try to get the best of him, but you always knew you were going to get his best effort.”
The Giants understand Ross now. They know his antics are more exuberance than ego.
“Cody? Sure, he might be able to get away with a bat flip,” left-hander Barry Zito said. “He’s always going to be a legend in San Fran.”
He almost came back this past winter. The Giants reached out to his agent early in the free-agency period, and would have considered him as a fallback if they hadn’t re-signed Angel Pagan to a four-year, $40 million deal.
“And rightfully so,” Ross said. “He had a great year there. Once they signed him, that was it.”
What did Ross think about watching the Giants reprise their run in 2012?
“It reminded me a lot of the team in 2010,” he said. “It seemed like everything they did went in their favor. You have to have that happen. You have to have talent and stay healthy, but you also have to catch a few breaks.”
It wasn’t lost on Ross that Zito and Pablo Sandoval, the two players forced furthest to the periphery in 2010, played major roles two years later.
“I was happy for Pablo obviously, but to see what Zito did was incredible,” Ross said. “He’s one of those guys who never complained when he was taken out of the rotation and basically told he wasn’t going to pitch again. I was so happy for him because he’s such a great guy, a nice guy, and he continued to work and not just cash it in. It says a lot about his character.”
Ross made special mention of Marco Scutaro, too.
“To see Scutaro come back after getting taken out at second and go out on a tear …” one NLCS MVP said of the other. “He could have easily been out for the postseason. But he came back and was a huge factor. He hit everything in sight.”
A familiar feeling?
“Little bit,” he said, with a laugh.
Told of those comments, Scutaro smiled.
“Yeah, but I didn’t hit bombs,” Scutaro said. “He did.”
Ross sent texts to Cain, Buster Posey and others after the World Series. He also keeps in touch with Aubrey Huff, who is staying active in case his phone rings. And like many others, Ross finds endless amusement in the thought of Burrell as a pro scout.
He also agrees with the notion that if Posey hadn’t gotten hurt in 2011, the Giants could be celebrating a three-peat.
“I remember looking around and it was like everybody on the team was, `Whelp, there goes our season,’” Ross said. “It was all downhill from there.”
The game has a way of reshuffling the deck. For Ross, it finds him in a hitter’s park, in a division he loves and in the city where he lives year round. He can have breakfast with his wife and two kids every day.
And he can stare back at Cain, and maybe even dare to wink.
“You know what’s great?” he said. “In 20 or 30 years, I’ll be able to name every person on that 2010 team. It was just such a bond we had.”