'Grandpa Rossy' playing free and easy in final season with Cubs

'Grandpa Rossy' playing free and easy in final season with Cubs

David Ross pumped his fist and jogged back to the dugout, high-fiving Jon Lester and fellow Cubs teammates along the way.

As far as celebrations go, this one was pretty tame for Ross, but it was also just the top of the second inning in a scoreless ballgame in April against the team with the worst record in baseball.

Ross is a fun-loving guy who typically celebrates everything he can, but he's also taking it all in and playing free and easy during his victory lap before he retires at the end of the season.

We've seen him skip around on the bases, douse teammates in ice showers and whatever that celebration is in the dugout that may be a little NSFW

"He's always stopped and smelled the roses," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's unique. Different cat from what I've had in the past."

Ross also has more to celebrate this season, hitting .267 with an .851 OPS. He's already scored more runs (8) than he did all of last season (6) in almost 150 fewer plate appearances and has an OPS more than 300 points higher than 2015 (.518).

Over the first month of the season, Ross has twice as many homers as he hit in 2015.

"At least I'm contributing and working at-bats and making the guys throw rather than three pitches to get me out," Ross said. "I'm just trying to have good at-bats and being a part of this group. 

"These guys pride themselves on going up there and being tough outs and I just want to get in the mix."

The 39-year-old has also done a solid job of limiting the running game, throwing out four baserunners already this year.

Ross also caught his first career no-hitter last month in Cincinnati and sports a sparkling 1.64 catcher's ERA

"He's playing at a really high level right now, regardless of his age," Maddon said. "He playing at a really high level offensively, defensively, the way he takes command or control of the game. You don't see catchers take control as well as he takes control these days.

"He's not afraid to say something out to the pitcher or the defense. He had a coversation with the umpire [Friday]. He does a lot of things that guys don't really do a whole lot anymore."

After Friday's win over the Braves, Ross joked that his teammates keep asking him why everybody always thinks he's so nice even though he spends so much time yelling at everybody.

Ross admitted he does get on Lester a lot because he looks at the veteran southpaw as a little brother and expects a lot out of him.

Lester obviously appreciates that from his personal catcher.

"Rossy stinks," Lester joked after his start Friday. "I'm tired of Rossy. I'm tired of dealing with him. You guys don't get to see the other side that I get to see.

"I mean, obviously Rossy is a big contributor on a lot of different levels. ... He's had some really good ABs for us this year. This guy is the consummate professional. He's the guy that enver takes a play off, whether he's in the dugout or in the game.

"He always expects the best from everybody, so it's nice to see the reward for the work he's put in to get where he's at. I don't want to keep talking good about him because then he'll probably get wind of it and then I won't hear the end of it."

The Cubs entered the season with Ross figuring to fill a role as pseudo-coach, part-time catcher and full-time cheerleader with Kyle Schwarber and Miguel Montero also available behind the plate. 

But both Schwarber and Montero are now on the disabled list and Ross is currently the guy sharing the catching duties with recent call-up Tim Federowicz.

The situation may have changed, but Grandpa Rossy's self-awareness hasn't.

"I know I can't catch every day," he said. "I'll tell you that. I know I'm not an everyday catcher. Nope. Not that guy."

Ross also won't credit his uptick in playing time as a reason for his increased productivity this season.

"I've been doing this backup thing for a long time," he said. "It's just about having confidence in your approach and what you're doing up there.

"The everyday at-bats: Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn't. Depends on how you feel. I've had a good approach; I've worked on it since spring and this offseason and I just feel a lot better at the plate. That's the bottom line."

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.