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Life as a backup catcher suits Boston's Ross fine

August 15, 2013

David Ross

PAWTUCKET — There’s light at the end of the tunnel as far as David Ross and his minor-league rehab assignment is concerned.

The veteran catcher is scheduled to be behind the plate for back-to-back nine-inning games for the PawSox on Friday and Saturday before visiting concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins on Sunday.
If everything checks out accordingly, Ross would rejoin the Red Sox Monday night in San Francisco.

In the world of baseball transactions, what goes up must come down. If Ross is deemed back with Boston, the corresponding move would feature Ryan Lavarnway returning to Pawtucket.

Speaking Thursday at McCoy Stadium, Ross agreed when it was suggested that following a two-plus month stint that has seen Lavarnway by and large operate in the shadow of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the 26-year-old could benefit from a trip to the minors.

“He’ll be back up in September and we need him to be good. (The Red Sox) could use him to pinch hit off a lefty. However (Red Sox manager) John (Farrell) wants to use him, I don’t know, but we definitely need him. He’s a good young player,” said Ross. “I think Ryan wants to play every day if he could and he’ll get that chance (with Pawtucket).

“I know his personality and he wants to be the starter, and I don’t fault him for that. You should want to,” Ross continued. “But he’s in a situation where that’s not going to happen, not right now. There are still some things he needs to learn and Saltalamacchia is leading that team as well as anybody I’ve been around.”
***
On the surface, life as a backup catcher seems ideal. You’re the ultimate sports freeloader because your work schedule is loaded with off days. If a backup backstop appears more than twice during a seven-day period, that’s considered a heavy workload.

Very rarely are backup catchers born with old souls. Ross, 36, is living proof of entering such a specialized society after enduring trials and tribulations as a young player.

After a couple of seasons that saw Ross show flashes of power – he slugged 37 home runs in 202 games for Cincinnati between 2006 and 2007 seasons – he started to have a change of heart. He recalls having a couple of one-year deals with possible starting gigs attached on the table after filing for free agency following the 2008 season, “which was nice, but Atlanta came in with a two-year deal.”

The Braves also had a bonafide all-star catcher in Brian McCann. His presence allowed Ross, who was 32 when the 2009 season began, to come to grips that life as a reserve might not be the worst thing in the world.

“I had good years and bad years as a starter, so I decided that I was going to try the backup role in order to extend my career. At that point, security was important, but I no longer wanted to be in competition with the other catcher,” Ross explained. “(McCann) was the man and one of the best in the game, and knowing that going in, it allowed me to come in and be a good teammate and not be mad if my name wasn’t in the lineup. I would catch as needed.”

Like many pro athletes, Ross doesn’t handle failing well. Backing up McCann afforded him a chance to play and reflect on what went well and what areas need tightening up heading into his next starting assignment. More importantly, he knew he had a set-in-stone stone schedule that called for him to have multiple days away from the catching grind.

“I had a chance to figure out things,” Ross said.
***
Ross signed with the Red Sox last offseason with the intent of providing Saltalamacchia with a breather when needed. Victimized by multiple concussion issues, Ross was moved to the 60-day disabled list in late June, a move that in turn meant Lavarnway would be in the majors for an extended stretch.

It also meant that he would serve as Saltalamacchia’s understudy. He appeared in just eight Red Sox games in July, going 5-for-25. The current month has seen Lavarnway make three starts and total 13 at-bats heading into Thursday’s game against Toronto.

In some respects, the sporadic playing time Lavarnway has received in Ross’ absence has helped educate the 20-something about a life that the latter has been brushing up against for the past five seasons.

“Everybody has to pay their dues. Rarely does somebody come in and get a starting role, especially catching,” said Ross. “I’m not a great player by any means, but I try to do what I do best and go from there.
“Everyone in this organization knows what Ryan Lavarnway can do. The thing is when you get an opportunity, you have to make the most of it,” Ross continued. “The tough part is sitting around and understanding that you don’t get a chance to get back out there. The hardest thing to do is to be a role player.”

By the same token, Ross feels that young players need to resist the itch of becoming a pariah in the clubhouse.

“When you are (in the bigs), you have to do the best you can to help the team win, whatever that is,” Ross said. “I judge my performance by wins while some go home at night and if they got two hits, that’s how they judge.

“If you’re on a winning team, everybody benefits. That includes money and time in the big leagues,” Ross went on.

In due time, all of the perks that Ross mentioned could become Lavarnway’s.

“(Saltalamacchia) is now getting a chance to play every day and look at what he’s doing,” Ross pointed out. “There’s a lot of pressure on young players to perform, but you’ve just got to be patient and understand that your time will come.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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