Speaking as a beloved former Cubs backup catcher more than the team's special assistant to baseball operations, David Ross wants Yu Darvish to realize something about Chicago in case anything has been lost in translation.
Love is in the air at Wrigley Field, whether the wind blows in or out.
"This blue-collar town will have your back if you go out and give it your all," Ross said. "If I was his teammate, I would tell him this is the greatest city you'll ever play for and the greatest organization, whether you're a star like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant or the backup catcher like David Ross. If you go out there and give your all, this place will fall in love with you."
Darvish has his doubts, based on what teammate Chris Gimenez told the Sun-Times last week about Cubs fans hating the pitcher after an underwhelming start exacerbated by two stints on the disabled list. Ross came to town for the amateur draft and taped a Modelo beer commercial in the West Loop, where he let the baseball wisdom flow. Not surprisingly, "Grandpa Rossy" urged more empathy than enmity when it came to Darvish.
"If I'm his teammate, I'm focusing on the big picture," said Ross, also a part-time ESPN analyst. "What are we working on? Right now, he needs to simplify, not trying to find five pitches that work but let's simplify and get to what you feel most confident in to throw strikes. What's your bread and butter and let's build on that. Once he gets a little self-confident and gets on a roll, we'll see the Darvish everybody expected to see."
Why have the Cubs instead seen this version instead?
"It's just lack of a feel so far," Ross said. "Not being his teammate, I don't know whether that's mental or physical. When you find that rhythm on a team with success, that's when you hit your stride. That has a lot to do with self-confidence in the environment."
Back in the comfortable environment of teammates, Darvish threw Tuesday for the first time since an MRI one week earlier showed no structural damage related to his triceps tendinitis. Manager Joe Maddon correctly called it too early to compare Darvish to Jake Arrieta, who made a gracious return to Wrigley four months after Cubs President Theo Epstein bypassed him in free-agency. But even Ross agreed the right-hander who signed the six-year, $126 million contract must start performing like a money pitcher for the Cubs to meet expectations.
"We need Yu Darvish to be the guy they expected him to be," Ross said.
Arrieta didn't have to return to Clark and Addison for Ross and everybody else to remember what impact a dominant pitcher can make on a pennant race, but it helped. On Monday, Ross exchanged texts with his old Cubs teammate — Ross told Arrieta he was glad he wasn't pitching against the Cubs — and made plans to share dinner this week. The role the Phillies want Arrieta to play reminds Ross of the purpose he served on the Red Sox and the Cubs before retiring to experience even more popularity thanks to "Dancing With The Stars."
"It's knowing what winning looks like and sharing that, which is why he used some choice words the other day," Ross said, alluding to Arrieta's postgame rant Sunday criticizing the Phillies' shifts. "He's trying to take them to a new place, saying, 'Hey, we've got to do better.' That's the same kind of responsibility I put on myself when I came here, to infect people with what is winning. However you deliver that, and he's got that responsibility and is taking it on."
Diplomacy be damned.
"Accountability is a lost art in our society in general and lacking in areas of the game in baseball," Ross said.
Often referenced by Maddon as an example of a teammate applying tough love, Ross acknowledged the sensitivity required in the clubhouse helping a player deal with trade speculation the way Cubs shortstop Addison Russell recently has in the wake of Manny Machado rumors. The baseball executive-in-training Ross sees the value in exploring every trade option. The ex-player who led the league in intangibles hates seeing his buddy twist in the wind.
"If I'm a GM and I'm not trying to make my team better in every way, no matter who it is, then I'm not doing my job," Ross said. "Now, am I in love with Addison Russell? I am because he's like a brother to me and to talk about trading a guy I feel like is family hurts me. But that's not Theo's job. I work for the Cubs and I see that side. We're always trying to get better, but I also look at it like a teammate. I can see both sides."
Just as Ross sees both perspectives when Cubs fans second-guess Maddon, who often scoffs at the scrutiny. Ross admitted being one of the many folks who wondered why Maddon let pitcher Luke Farrell bat in the 13th inning Saturday against the Mets when Javier Baez was available to pinch-hit. It wasn't the first time Ross has questioned the manager — whose odd move worked.
"I can say now that I'm out of the clubhouse that I've been on the bench and thought, 'What is Joe doing?' " Ross said. "But 90 percent of the things I question, they work out. I always compared Joe to (former Braves manager) Bobby Cox, which seems like the total opposite end. But people don't know Joe is old-school baseball like Bobby but just has a different way of looking at it that makes him unique. Just because it's not conventional doesn't mean it's wrong. Joe is just an authentic guy."
Takes one to know one.