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July 19, 2009

Prospectus Q&A

Cody Ross

by David Laurila

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Cody Ross is genuine. The Marlins outfielder may not be a superstar, but he personifies what fans love to see when they look beyond a player's statistics: Ross is not only humble and hard-working, he has a sincere appreciation of what it means to hold down a spot on a big-league roster. Now 28 years old and with his fourth organization, Ross was given his first opportunity to play full-time last season, and he responded by hitting a workmanlike .260/.316/.488 with 22 home runs. Originally drafted by the Tigers, the native of Portales, New Mexico is putting up solid numbers again this season, leading the Marlins in extra-base hits and ranking second on the team in home runs. Ross talked about the path he followed to Miami, some of his best memories along the way, and why he doesn't like hearing his name mentioned in trade rumors.

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David Laurila: How would you describe Cody Ross, the person?

Cody Ross: I try to be the best human being that I possibly can, whether that is on the field or away from the field-anywhere. In this game, fans get the perspective that baseball players are sometimes unreachable, and I try to make myself available to as many people as possible, be it the media, fans, or whomever. When I leave this game, I want to be known for more than just being a good player who did this or did that. When they ask my teammates, 'Hey, how is this guy,' I want them to say, 'He was a great teammate,' or 'He was a good human being.' I also try to be the best dad and best husband that I can. That's pretty much it. I try to do the right thing-always.

DL: How would you describe yourself as a player?

CR: Throughout my whole career, even when I was an amateur, I was one of those guys that didn't have enough talent. I didn't have the size, or build, of a major league baseball player. But I give it my heart. Every time I step out on the field, I give it my 110 percent. I know that sounds cliched, but I take pride in that. I take pride in playing this game the right way, like how they did back in the day when they didn't make a lot of money. I would hope those guys would appreciate watching me.

DL: You were drafted 10 years ago this month. Does that seem like a long time ago, or more like it was just yesterday?

CR: It seems like a long time ago, but when I think about it, it seems like yesterday, if that makes sense. I can remember the exact place that I was when I was drafted, and the feeling that I had. Growing up, I knew that I wanted to be a baseball player and that I wanted to play in the big leagues and stay there for a long time. I wasn't going to let anybody tell me any different. I've had a lot of critics in the past, saying, "He's too small," or "He's not fast enough," or "He doesn't hit for enough power," so it's been a long road, these 10 years, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think that the path I've gone down was set up for me, and it's been a great ride. Hopefully it will just continue to get better.

DL: Of all that has happened in the 10 years, what has most surprised you?

CR: It would probably be the fact that I'm with the Marlins. There was no doubt in my mind, ever, that I was going to be where I'm at right now. I knew in my heart that I could play at this level; it was just a matter of showing people that I had enough talent, and of me being consistent enough. But I thought that I was going to be a Detroit Tiger for life, because that's the team I got drafted by. When you're young and na´ve, like I was... I didn't realize that it's a business and they were going to trade me to the Dodgers and try to get a better player. Then I got traded from the Dodgers to the Reds, and I got traded from the Reds to here, so it's just been a cool little road that I've traveled down these last five years, being traded so many times. But, like I said, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love being here in Florida with this organization. We have a lot of young, really good players, and we have a good front office and coaches. It's just been fun.

DL: Looking back at your first professional season, your teammates included Omar Infante, Ramon Santiago, and Fernando Rodney. What was it like being 18 years old and walking into a clubhouse that featured such a diverse mix of cultures?

CR: It was amazing. I remember walking in and thinking, 'Wow, is this really the way that professional baseball is?' It wasn't the glitz and glam that I watched growing up, going to Texas Rangers games and watching guys like Dean Palmer and Juan Gonzalez hitting home runs. I got to the place in Lakeland where they put us up and I was thinking, 'Wow, this is amazing. There are so many different guys from different countries and speaking different languages.' I was kind of overwhelmed. And it's funny you mentioned Fernando Rodney and Ramon Santiago, because those are actually the two guys I got the closest with on the Tigers. Even though the language barrier was there, we got really close and hung out together-all three of us. It was pretty neat to see those guys and what they are doing in their careers. I'm just so happy for them. Every time I see them, I go up and give them a big hug and tell them that I miss them. It's great to see teammates that you played with years ago succeeding.

DL: You were teammates with Max St. Pierre in West Michigan in your second professional season. Having grown up French Canadian in Quebec, he had language and cultural issues of his own.

CR: Yeah, definitely. He and I were roommates for a couple of years, and he was trying to teach me some French while I was trying to teach him some English. Every time, he would tell me, "Cody, if I say something that's wrong, correct me. You're not going to offend me; it's not going to upset me. If I pronounce something wrong, tell me." So I would always try to help him out with that. He's a great guy, too. He's really talented, and we had a lot of fun together. I enjoyed my time getting to know his culture.

DL: When you played in Toledo in 2003, one of your teammates was A.J. Hinch. At the time, was it clear that he had a bright future beyond the playing field?

CR: Oh yeah. He had some big-league experience and was kind of a veteran-type player at that point, and he was so smart. I remember thinking to myself that I wanted to make sure that I listened to what he had to say, because he seemed really knowledgeable and understood the game really well. Just from the way that he would talk... I mean, I knew that he had gone to Stanford and was an intelligent guy, but not only that, he understood the game on the field. His locker was pretty close to mine, and I would talk to him a lot. I remember thinking, 'Wow, this guy really knows what is going on.'

DL: After getting traded to the Dodgers, you played Triple-A ball with Edwin Jackson. What are your memories of him?

CR: I got traded over there at the very end of spring training in 2004, and I remember how when they told me I'd be going to Triple-A, everybody was talking about how Edwin Jackson was going to be there. They were talking about how talented he was, and he impressed me big-time. I knew from the get go that this guy was going to be able to do some big things. He struggled, though-he really battled in Triple-A. His velocity was down, he couldn't command the strike zone, and I think his ERA was up there a little bit. So I remember him struggling a little bit and it was a reality check for him. I think that was just because he was so young, and still trying to figure out who he was and what kind of a pitcher he was. He wasn't always a pitcher, right? He had been a position player, so he was really trying to figure out how to pitch. And it is amazing to see... just the other day, I think I saw him throw a complete game where he hit 99 [mph] with the last pitch. I was like, 'Wow, this guy has really figured it out.' He's really come a long way from being with the [Las Vegas] 51s.

DL: Prior to the trade, you got into six games with the 2003 Tigers. Can you talk a little about your first big-league call-up and your debut?

CR: I remember that we were in an airport, it was early in the morning, and we were traveling back to Toledo. Our manager, Larry Parrish, called me over and was like, "Cody" ... I remember seeing him on the phone, and he hung up and kind of waved me over. He had this smirk on his face and he said, "Cody, I have some good news for you: you're going to the pros." I just looked at him like, 'Are you serious?' I didn't know if I truly believed him, because I was so in shock. I remember that I was going a million miles an hour and he was saying, "You're going to fly to Detroit, get your stuff, and you're going to get to Kansas City at six o'clock. The game is at seven, so you're going to have to rush from the airport and get to the field, because you're starting." I remember thinking, 'Oh, my gosh. This is really amazing.' I was trying to call everybody and let them know, and people were trying to make it up there to watch me. Finally, I got to Kansas City about six o'clock, and the stadium is pretty far from the airport, so it took me about 30 or 40 minutes to get there. It was July 4th, a packed house, and I showed up around 6:40, threw my uniform on, and went out to the outfield with Kirk Gibson. He showed me around, because it was a little tricky out there with the new warning track they had put in. But really, everything was just going a million miles an hour.

DL: How about the game itself?

CR: My first at-bat, I hit a hard line-drive at Desi Relaford and he threw me out. Then, in either my second or third at-bat, Nate Field hit me right square in the back, like in my sciatic nerve, and I dropped to the ground. I was like, 'I don't know if I can get up.' But I got up, hobbled to first, and I was in excruciating pain. I couldn't put any pressure on my leg, so it must have hit the nerve just perfect to where I couldn't feel my leg. I ended up having to come out of the game, and when I did, the veteran guys were all over me. They were like, "We heard you were tough and a gamer, but look, you had to come out of the game!" Blah, blah, blah. I remember Bobby Higginson giving me a bunch of crap about it. So it was a really cool, special day for me, but at the same time I was a little upset because I had to come out of the game.

DL: Later that season you hit your first home run, a grand slam off of Cliff Lee. Is that the most memorable hit of your career thus far?

CR: I think so, yeah. I had faced him a lot in the minor leagues, but to hit an opposite-field grand slam against him, in the big leagues, it was unbelievable. I remember the feeling I had running around the bases. It was like I had finally made it, and I just remember smiling and being as happy as I could possibly be. So yeah, I would definitely say that it's the biggest hit of my career.

DL: You hit the grand slam in early September, yet didn't get into another game the rest of the season. What happened?

CR: Okay, so my first at-bat, I hit a grand slam. In my second at-bat, I came up and hit a ball off the left-field wall. My third at-bat, Dmitri Young was on first, I looked down to third base, and I got the bunt sign. We were up by three or four runs, I think, and I was thinking, 'Bunt? I just hit a ball over the wall, another off the wall, and now I have to bunt?' But I was fine with that; I was a young guy, and they expected me to be able to bunt. So I squared around, bunted, and the pitcher picked up the ball and fired it to first. Ben Broussard was playing first, and he jumped right on top of the bag. I was trying to go around him to avoid a collision, and when I stepped, my knee just popped. I went straight down to the ground and they had to cart me off, because I had blown my ACL out. So, really, it was both the best and worst day of my major league career.

DL: While you only played a handful of games, you were still part of a 2003 Tigers team that lost 119 games. Does that mean anything to you?

CR: At the time, I wasn't too worried about it. I was more worried about staying up in the big leagues, contributing, and trying to establish myself. I was obviously trying to help my team win, but when you're a young guy, you're just trying to survive and show the coaches and front office that you're capable of playing in the big leagues. If I was on a team that was going to lose 119 games now, it would be a totally different feeling than it was at that point in my career. Back then it was just trying to establish myself, but now it would be something else entirely. I can only imagine what some of those older guys were thinking when they went to the field every day when it seemed like an almost guaranteed loss. But while I can say that I was on that team, it doesn't really affect my psyche or leave a bad taste in my mouth that we lost 119 games that year.

DL: You went from the Tigers to the Dodgers to the Reds to the Marlins, the last three in a relatively short period of time. When you got to Florida, did you step back and wonder how it had all come to be?

CR: You know, I knew that there was a good chance I wasn't going to be with the Dodgers, because I was out of options and their outfield was packed. I knew that I was going to probably end up somewhere else. So I ended up having a pretty good spring, and they called me in and told me that they were trying to find me a big-league team to play with, and I was actually hoping at that particular point that they were going to trade me to the Marlins, because I knew that there were a lot of young guys over here and they were giving them a chance to play to see if they could cut it in the big leagues. So I got a call from Kim Ng, the assistant general manager over there, and she said, "Cody, we just traded you, and you're going to the Cincinnati Reds."

DL: Were you surprised that it was Cincinnati?

CR: Oh, yeah. That was like the last team I thought I would go to. I had been going through the league, trying to figure out who needed outfielders and who didn't, and they had guys like Griffey Kearns and Dunn, so I was sitting there thinking, 'Where am I going to fit in over here?' Well, it ended up that Griffey was on the DL, so I went to the Reds, but I knew that I was on limited time there. Wayne Krivsky was real honest with me and said, "Don't get an apartment yet, because we don't know exactly what your role is going to be." And that was really big, because a lot of times general managers won't do that. He was just unbelievable about the whole process; he was straightforward with me, and I really appreciated that. My wife was with me, traveling, and it was just a crazy time in my career. So he ended up calling me on the phone one day, and he said, "Cody, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that you're not with us anymore. The good news is that I just traded you to the Florida Marlins." I was like, "Yes!" I said that: "Yes! Thank you!" I was hoping that I didn't sound too excited, like I didn't want to be on the Reds, but I knew that the Marlins were... not necessarily rebuilding, but giving guys a chance to play. It was just a relief for me that I was going to get a chance to play, and it's been great.

DL: Your name has come up in trade rumors just recently. Most players say that trade rumors are just part of the game, and they try not to think about them. Is that really true?

CR: Oh, no. I'll be real honest with you. When I heard my name, it affected me a little bit. Actually, it affected me pretty good. But you do have to just keep reminding yourself that this is a business, and you have to treat it as a business. When I go out there, I try to just be a kid and play the game and enjoy it, but at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, I know it's a business and anything can happen. I could get traded, because nobody is safe in this game. All of that stuff is out of my control, so I just have to worry about going out there and doing the stuff that I can control. The rest of it will take care of itself. But absolutely, it did affect me. I love being here and I want to stay here with the Marlins. But if they have different plans, they have different plans. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

DL: One of the rumors had you going to Atlanta. I assume you know that you've hit over .350 at Turner Field over the course of your career?

CR: Yeah, I've always played well there. I think it's probably because I see the ball well. I like the stadium. It has a great baseball-type atmosphere and is just a really good place to play. The ball travels well in the summer. I just enjoy playing there, is what it boils down to. I actually know a few of the coaches, and they were maybe in on trying to get me over there, but that's neither here nor there. It's over with, and I can't worry about it anymore.

DL: I feel obligated to ask about your pitching performance against the Phillies earlier this season.

CR: I've always wanted to do that. I always wanted to get out on the mound and see what I was capable of, because in high school, I was pretty good. I know that a lot of teams were scouting me with the possibility that I'd be a pitcher, and a lot of guys were comparing me to Mike Hampton because I could both pitch and hit and was a pretty good athlete. So I had told Fredi [Gonzalez], a couple of years ago, that "Hey, if we're in a blowout, put me in there and see what happens." Sure enough, I got that chance, but little did I know that it would be against the defending champions and the middle of their lineup-the heart of their order. When I stood on the mound and looked up, and heard them announce Ryan Howard, I thought to myself, 'Does it have to be him? Come on.' I just didn't want to be hit in the face with a ball hit right back at me. But it went as well as it possibly could, and I had as much fun with it as I possibly could, considering that we were down something like 12-1 or 12-0. You can't really have a whole lot of fun when you're losing that badly.

DL: To close, what makes the 2009 Marlins unique?

CR: We have a lot of guys on this team that people still don't really know. We have a lot of really talented guys who aren't really household names, and I don't know if that's because of where we play, or that people don't pay attention, or what. We have our superstar with Hanley, and an All-Star with Uggla, but after that we have a ton of really talented players that a lot of people don't know about. We have one of the best pitchers in the game in Josh Johnson, and I don't know if people really know who he is. If not, they're going to. I know that. And the list goes on. There's Volstad, and we've got this young kid, Sean West. I mean, I really like our rotation right now. Ricky Nolasco won 15 games for us last year and has been pitching great since he came back up. And we have some good position players. We have a good mixture with some speed and some power. I just like the way that our team is made up, and I think we all play with a lot of heart and a lot of character. That's what it boils down to. I love being a part of this team.

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