Home cooking for Dansby Swanson and sleepless nights for David Ross as the Chicago Cubs enter the final week of the wild-card chase – Boston Herald
David Ross participated in seven postseasons as a player with four different teams, and one season on “Dancing With the Stars.”
But the pressure Ross faced before is nothing like what he’s going through now managing the Chicago Cubs in this crazy National League wild-card chase.
The challenge of getting this Cubs team into the postseason has been one of the biggest of his life, and is why Ross sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night.
“Way different as a manager than as a player,” Ross said Tuesday before the Cubs’ game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s fun, and you try and prepare and keep it all the same, but inside you’re riding it.
“We also have a lot of different guys in different scenarios in the back end of games right now that haven’t been there all year. So it’s a little like pulling the right lever is important, and doing all your homework and trusting the human. Sometimes I trust the heartbeat. Sometimes I trust the information. Just trying to balance it all out and put guys in the best situation to succeed.
“But within that it’s fun. (Julian) Merryweather the other day walks the first two guys (in the ninth inning) and gets out of that. You’re carrying it. I don’t get that (feeling) golfing on the weekend. That’s what you sign up for — the nerves, the adrenaline, a little bit of anxiety. Shoot, that’s what fuels you in the morning and wakes you up in the middle of the night when things aren’t going well.”
Ross isn’t the only one waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Cubs fans have gone through the ringer all year, wondering which team will show up on any given day.
With the wild-card race heating up, they’re looking for Ross to make all the right moves, and for the team’s biggest stars, including Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson and Justin Steele, to come through when they’re needed the most.
Swanson’s homecoming to Atlanta this week has been a chance for the Cubs shortstop to stay at his own house and have a home-cooked meal from his mother, including his favorite side dishes, cream corn and fried okra. He spent much of the pregame Tuesday talking with old friends from the Braves, the Atlanta media and stadium employees he’s known over the years.
In Atlanta, Swanson was one star in a clubhouse full of them. On the Cubs, he’s the centerpiece of the organization, brought in last winter with the most lucrative deal in team history. Like Ross, the pressure on Swanson in the final week is enormous. After hitting .184 in August with a .662 OPS, he was closer to his norm in September with a .269 average and .778 OPS.
Sleeping in his own bed was the perfect tonic.
“It just kind of helps keep the juices flowing,” Swanson said before the game. “Especially at this point of the year. Everyone is banged up and tired. To be able to have some downtime and get recharged has been awesome.”
Swanson watched a tribute video of his Atlanta career before the game and saluted the fans who supported him over the years. Then he got another standing ovation in his first at-bat.
This could have been a lifelong relationship between a hometown player and the team he grew up rooting for. But the Braves had so many stars they didn’t make much of an effort to keep Swanson. So he and his wife, Mallory Pugh Swanson, the Chicago Red Stars forward, decided Chicago was going to be their new home for at least the next seven years.
“I got the pretty clear sense that they were going to move on,” Swanson said of the Braves at his introductory news conference in Chicago. “I don’t want to say things I don’t need to say. But it kind of solidified (my decision). It got to a point where, we’re on our honeymoon, that we felt like this is where we’re supposed to be regardless.”
The easy move when you have success is staying in your comfort zone. Sometimes in life you have to take a risk and see what’s on the other side. Swanson decided to try and help a rebuilding team and became an integral part of one of the more remarkable in-season turnarounds in Cubs’ history.
But for the Cubs to complete this story, they’ll need Swanson to be in the middle of the action, playing at the level that made him an All-Star.
Ross also knows what it’s like to put his reputation on the line. He could have stayed in the ESPN broadcast booth and avoided all the stress he’s endured as Cubs manager. His legacy in Chicago was already secure as lovable “Grandpa Rossy,” the guy who hit a home run in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and was one of the most popular backup catchers ever.
His Q-rating probably would’ve stayed at the same high plateau forever, but as soon as he agreed to step into the manager’s role after the 2019 season, Ross knew he would be second-guessed over his lineup decisions and bullpen maneuvering, that every quote would be parsed for a deeper meaning, and that eventually some would call for his firing.
He’s experienced all of that this season, even as the Cubs have climbed out of their early season rut to become contenders again. Now he’s trying to get the Cubs past the finish line, knowing the finger will be pointed squarely at him by some if they don’t get the job done.
It’s an occupational hazard, and something he’s learned to live with.
“There are different areas of my job, things that come up,” he said. “There are people that piss me off some days and it puts me in a bad mood, and people that make me happy some days.”
How the story ends for the Cubs remains to be seen.
How they got to this point will be remembered for a long time.
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