After overcoming struggles, Ross is boss

After overcoming struggles, Ross is boss

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Cody Ross built his towering triumphs on a bedrock of perseverance.

Such is the case with many success stories. But Ross cleared numerous obstacles while striving to establish himself as a professional ballplayer, which is arduous enough under the best of circumstances.

Ross, 30, will forever be associated with his feats that helped the Giants surge through the 2010 postseason. The challenges that San Francisco's right fielder faced before the World Series triumph remain less obvious.

Ross endured three daunting injuries in a four-year stretch, which might have forced many players to consider another line of work. He has played for five organizations, an experience which obliged him to prove himself all over again at each stop -- except for one that gave him essentially no chance because it regarded him so lightly.

In spite of his struggles, or because of them, Ross commands respect that transcends his statistics. The five-year Major League veteran with a .265 batting average might as well be a perennial All-Star to his peers.

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"His makeup is what draws people to him," Giants infielder Mark DeRosa said. "I think he trusts himself. He oozes confidence on the field. When you look across the diamond and you see that, you have trust in that player."

"He has a great reputation for the way that he plays the game," center fielder Aaron Rowand said. "That goes beyond your teammates. That's how you get respect in this game. You earn it by the way you play. That's besides putting numbers up. It doesn't go unnoticed by your peers."

"He had to kind of kick in doors. He was never handed a job by any means," said Aaron Boone, the ESPN commentator whose 12-year Major League career included a season with Ross in Florida in 2007. "A lot of times when those guys do make it, they're better for it because they're battle-tested, tough, they appreciate things and it creates a work ethic."

Ross' diligence was forged as he grew up in Portales, N.M. His father, Kenny, demanded sincere effort from him, regardless of the activity.

"My dad instilled in me, from a very young age, not to ever give up and never quit," Ross said this week. "If you start something, always finish it."

One afternoon, Kenny Ross watched his son mow the lawn halfheartedly. This prompted a lecture that the younger Ross still recalls.

"He took me back out there and said, 'Listen, if you're going to do something, you do it right,'" Ross said. "It molded me into the type of person that I am. When you come across some adversity, you can get through it easier when you have the sort of mentality not to give up and to fight for what you want."

Ross thus became equipped to handle the succession of ill luck that he encountered as a ballplayer.

Selected in the fourth round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft by Detroit, Ross reached the Tigers in 2003. Facing future ace Cliff Lee, then with Cleveland, Ross hit his first Major League home run, a third-inning grand slam, on Sept. 2.

Unfortunately for Ross, the game didn't end there. Ross doubled in the fifth inning, but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while running out a sacrifice-bunt attempt in his following plate appearance.

By his own admission, Ross said that he tried to return too quickly from his knee injury, which hampered his performance. Ross was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 1 and spent the 2004 season in Triple-A. He played just 22 games for the Dodgers in 2005-06 before being traded to Cincinnati on April 24, 2006.

Four days later, not only did Ross strike out as a pinch-hitter against Houston's Roy Oswalt, but the ball also struck him on his left hand. The resulting bruise on his pinkie forced him to the disabled list.

Ross played two games with the Reds, who intended to jettison him when left-hander Kent Mercker left the disabled list. Ross realized his insignificance to the club when he discovered that he received a different set of signs from the third-base coach than anyone else. The Reds knew he'd be gone soon, so they refrained from sharing their usual signs with him.

Ross referred to his tough times as "those minor setbacks." He added, "I wasn't going to give up. I wasn't going to give in. It would have been too easy to say, 'Oh well, I gave it my best effort and I blew my knee out; let's shut 'er down now.' I want to play this game for a long time. All the hard work and the never-give-up mentality paid off."

That happened after the Reds traded Ross to Florida on May 26, 2006, which thrilled Ross so much that he bellowed "Yes!" into the telephone when Cincinnati general manager Wayne Krivsky informed him of the deal.

"I knew I was going to get an opportunity there," Ross said.

Ross did, despite enduring a strained left hamstring that put him back on the disabled list in May 2007. He hit .335 in 68 games that year with the Marlins and followed that with solid seasons in 2008 (.260, 29 doubles, 22 homers, 73 RBIs) and 2009 (.270, 37 doubles, 24 homers, 90 RBIs).

But Ross had become eligible for salary arbitration. Also, the Marlins wanted to create room in center field, Ross' primary position, for prospect Cameron Maybin. Those factors led to Florida placing Ross on waivers and his subsequent arrival in San Francisco after the Giants claimed him on Aug. 22.

This transition represented one last excruciating moment for Ross, who had developed friendships with teammates and club officials.

"Emotions were flying," he said, recalling his abrupt Marlins farewell. But he quickly warmed to the idea of joining the Giants.

"I couldn't have been more excited," Ross said.

This was consistent with his cheery nature. "That's why they call him 'Smiles,'" Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "He always has a smile on his face and he looks like he's enjoying the game. Every day."

Ross started only 17 games with the Giants through the end of the regular season. Meanwhile, he opened his batting stance and absorbed Edgar Renteria's advice to start his swing and get his front foot down more quickly. Ross became a fixture in the lineup when Jose Guillen was left off the postseason roster with a neck injury.

Ross seized that opportunity by ushering the Giants through the postseason with a stream of crucial hits: the single in Game 1 of the Division Series against Atlanta that drove in the game's lone run. The pair of homers off Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay in the National League Championship Series opener. The single that christened the seventh inning of Game 5 of the World Series and helped set up Renteria's deathless home run.

Ross homered in each postseason round and batted safely in 13 of San Francisco's 15 postseason games, with 10 of his 15 hits going for extra bases.

"He can hit a homer off a tough pitcher or do some damage off a top pitch," Boone said. "I think that's important, especially as you saw in postseason, where a lot of times it's about being able to do something against good pitching."

Ross entered Tuesday night's exhibition against Arizona batting .333 (10-for-30) with two home runs, six RBIs, a .429 on-base percentage and a .633 slugging percentage in 12 Cactus League games.

It's as if the postseason never ended for him.

"I'm feeling just as good now as I did then," Ross said.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.