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Cubs manager Ross says Las Vegas is, was great place to play ball

Updated March 8, 2020 - 2:50 pm

According to the Baseball Reference website, David Ross spent two seasons playing baseball in Las Vegas when he was property of the Los Angeles Dodgers and our Triple-A team was known as the 51s.

In 2002, he appeared in 92 games, batting .297 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs. He was one of the leaders of a team that won 85 games before being eliminated from the Pacific Coast League playoffs by the Edmonton Trappers.

The Edmonton Trappers no longer exist. They were sold to a group headed by Nolan Ryan, who moved the franchise to Round Rock, Texas, after the 2004 season.

I must confess that my Las Vegas baseball memories of David Ross, at least the ones between the lines, also no longer exist.

The one that lingers happened off the field. During a game in Portland in May 2002, ruffians were causing a disturbance at old PGE Park when Ross, according to a fan who wrote an email to the newspaper, defused the situation by tossing a baseball to the troublemakers with the leather lungs.

He was only 25 then. He had hair. He had yet to play in a big league game.

He already was Grandpa Rossy.

That was the nickname bestowed upon him by Chicago Cubs teammates during the twilight of his 15-year major league career. Ross, like one’s grandfather, provided sage advice. He was a calming influence. He also hit a home run in Game 7 against the Indians in the Cubs’ epic World Series triumph of 2016.

Now he is the Cubs’ manager.

The Cubs didn’t make the playoffs last year, and now Cubs fans are expecting Grandpa Rossy to guide them back to the postseason despite not having managerial experience.

They also are expecting him to tell bedtime stories and bounce Bleacher Bums on his knee.

Before the Chicago media began asking about Anthony Rizzo’s finger blister and other day-to-day minutiae of managing the Cubs, Ross refreshed fading memories about having played for the 51s. He was bouncing reporters on his knee in the first base dugout at Las Vegas Ballpark before a Big League Weekend game Saturday against a split squad of Cincinnati Reds.

Almost big league

His first comment was about the first-base dugout and the other modern amenities and trappings of Las Vegas Ballpark.

“It’s a little different here, isn’t it?” said Ross, who played at Cashman Field long before the dugout plumbing erupted and sent raw sewage oozing over sunflower seed shells and pine tar rags.

“Cashman Field, spent a couple of years there, it was a really great place. And the city of Las Vegas, obviously, fun place to play. But this place here, beautiful. Just the facilities inside, it’s almost big league. Other than (lacking) the extra deck (of seats), this place is pretty professional.”

In a few hours, the Cubs would lose to Mike Moustakas and a bunch of mostly unrecognizable guys wearing Cincinnati baseball uniforms, 8-5. The Chicago outfielders chased flyballs in the wind as if they were balloons that somebody had let the air out of.

Ross said he remembered games at Cashman that were like that.

“Lot of high-scoring games,” he said with a knowing grin. “The ball traveled well.

“We had a really good team. I just ran into Joe Thurston; I think he had over 200 hits that year. … I think maybe we set a record for wins that year.”

Thurston finished with 196 hits. The 85 victories were, indeed, a franchise record. It stands to this day. Ross’ recollection of his Las Vegas apprenticeship is a lot more vivid than a certain sports writer’s.

You never forget where you were when you get called up for the first time, Ross said.

“I remember being down the left field line and getting the news from my manager (Brad Mills) that I was going to the big leagues,” he said. “That was a special moment for me.”

He answered a few more baseball questions before getting up to check on Rizzo’s finger and tend to other managerial matters. One of the Chicago beat reporters asked if he could ask one more baseball question.

“No,” Ross replied curtly.

Grandpa Rossy, as grandfathers are wont, seemed cranky.

A few minutes later, Ross returned to the dugout and answered more baseball questions. He was smiling again.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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