David Ross watched, helpless and hopeful.
The Cubs’ retiring 39-year-old catcher was about to become a father for the third time on Aug. 26, 2015.
But he wasn’t sure whether his wife, Hyla, was going to survive. He wasn’t sure his newborn daughter, Harper Lynn Ross, would either.
Hyla remembers seeing her husband, her high school sweetheart, through the door of the intensive care unit of a hospital in Tallahassee, Fla. She had been rushed there for an emergency cesarean section two months ahead of her scheduled due date after she suffered a partial abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterus).
“I see him putting on his scrubs and his shoes,” said Hyla, a licensed pediatric nurse who has worked in her share of ICUs. “David came in, he was already crying before it started.”
Because of the abruption, Hyla could have bled to death, which could have deprived Harper of oxygen and necessary nutrients.
“You’re in there and they’re cutting on your wife,” Ross said. “She’s scared; I’m scared.
“When things have gone pretty good for you in your life, you really don’t think about all the negative things that are possible – a child getting a disease or a newborn dying.”
The C-section was a success. Harper was 3 pounds, 11 ounces and 17 inches long, screaming right away.
“She’s so little,” Ross said. “Her butt went all the way to her hamstrings. You’re happy, but you’re worried.”
For a month she was in the neonatal intensive care unit, initially hooked to tubes to help her breath. Now she’s almost 14 months and healthy, “wailing around and driving us crazy,” Ross said. “She’s a hoot.”
The Cubs were watching out for Ross.
The 15-year veteran was teary as he stood in front of his locker talking about Harper late last week. He stressed that baseball is a job he loves but it’s hardly tops on the priority list.
“Family first,” he said.
It’s a philosophy Ross said the Cubs share. He pointed out phone calls he received from team President Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon after Harper was born. Both expressed sympathy and encouraged Ross to take as much time away as he needed.
“See how we can take care of him and reassure him that every guy in the clubhouse and all of us wanted him to be there for his family and we’d be there waiting for him when he came back,” Epstein said. “Simple stuff.”
It’s something of a cultural shift from the days when it was common for players to miss the birth of their children and other important moments.
“There’s a lot more sympathy to those things,” Ross said. “Joe kept saying to me, ‘We need David Ross back, not a piece of David Ross back. … Make sure things are fine at home before you come back to us.’
“When your manager tells you that, and Theo Epstein calls you and checks on you, and the organization sends $500 worth of food to your house so your family doesn’t have to cook, you just feel like you owe them so much. It goes a long way.”
David Ross watches out for his teammates.
And they watch out for him.
Right fielder Jason Heyward thinks so highly of the catcher, with whom he played in Atlanta, that for Ross’ preretirement gift, he paid for a suite big enough for Ross’ family on all road trips this season.
The farewell tour began in earnest in spring training, when “Grandpa Rossy” was born. The team gag-gifted him a front-row parking spot at the team’s spring-training facility in Mesa, Ariz. They also gave him a scooter and a robotic trailer that held bats and automatically followed the scooter.
Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant started an Instagram account, Grandparossy_3, to preserve special moments throughout the season.
“We wanted … to make him feel really special, that we really care about him and are gonna miss him,” Bryant said.
Bryant said the team initially felt bad calling Ross “Grandpa.” Ross, however, embraced it.
He also played along with a series of videos produced by the Cubs in which he encouraged people to vote for various Cubs for the All-Star game.
Ross himself never has been an All-Star, at least by traditional measures.
He’s a career backup with a .229 average who only twice in his career has surpassed 200 at-bats in a season. He has 106 career home runs and three career stolen bases. His .316 on-base percentage and .739 OPS hardly opens eyes.
“He’s not undervalued here,” said Cubs radio broadcaster Ron Coomer, who played with the Dodgers during Ross’ rookie season and was his locker neighbor. “When he says things, people listen. He’s a 39-year-old guy whose been in the league almost 20 years. That carries some weight, and it should.”
Ross also caught the only inning former White Sox manager Robin Ventura, whom he called “the mentor of all mentors,” pitched in the big leagues when both were with the Dodgers.
Now, fate has insisted Ross, on his final lap, go through the Dodgers, the team with which he began his career, in pursuit of his second World Series championship – and the Cubs’ first since 1908.
Despite this being his 15th season in the big leagues, Ross still can be overcome by the moment, by the emotion.
After he hit a home run in the division series, he returned to the dugout and did all he could to stop himself from being sick.
“I wanted to throw up,” he said. “But I knew I couldn’t.”
David Ross couldn’t watch. And he wasn’t sure he should.
Five days after Harper was born, Ross paced the floor in that intensive care unit. More than 2,000 miles away, Jake Arrieta was in the midst of pitching a no-hitter against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
“I pick up my phone and I see 2-0 and I’m like, ‘Oh, sweet, and it’s the eighth (inning).”
Then Ross noticed that Arrieta hadn’t given up a hit. It was 12:30 in the morning and the room was silent.
” ‘Do I watch on my phone? Do I not watch on my phone?’ ” he wondered to himself. ” ‘Is it good luck? Is it bad luck?’ “
So he turned it off. The minutes imitated hours. When he told Hyla about the goings-on, she encouraged him to check.
” ‘What if I turn it on and he’s given up a hit?’ ” Ross said.
So he waited a half-hour, turned it on, saw there were two outs in the ninth and turned it back off. Five minutes later he had seen Arrieta had finished the job.
“All the emotions of dealing with a preemie, if all that wasn’t enough, Jake’s throwing a no-hitter,” Ross said. “I was like, ‘Man, I missed it. Wait, I can’t be there.’ “
That’s because he had to be with his family. Just like a few weeks earlier when he left the team for a few days after his grandmother died.
Ross learned he had to watch out for himself.
Ross says he 99.9 percent sure he’s retiring, unless, of course, the Cubs make a silly offer.
And 100 percent of the reason has to do with his family and his health.
In 2013, he missed two months of the season after suffering a concussion thanks to consecutive foul balls to the head.
Sure, he caught the last out of his only World Series title so far. But it scared him. And his family.
So this year, he said, is it.
“I’m just tired of getting hit in the head,” Ross said. “That’s a really bad feeling. Unless you’ve gone through something like that, it’s hard to put into words.”
He said he was uneducated about it, didn’t put much stock into it until it happened to him. It also factored into his decision to retire this season.
It changed who he was. Who he is. Now he’s involved in a charity to raise awareness for the condition.
“You get hit in the head and you got that feeling and it doesn’t go away,” Ross said. “You’re annoyed. You’re not the same person. It’s nothing you can fake. You’re not a good dad. I’m short with my kids, my wife. You get seasick riding in a car. You can’t be in public places. It’s a nightmare.”
Hyla recalled a rare moment when Ross began cursing out a fellow driver. That was a warning sign.
“I had never seen him get this angry,” Hyla said. “The kids were in the car. I had to grab his shirt. The veins were popping out of his head.
“I looked at him and said, ‘If you don’t tell them, I’m going to them to tell them.’ “
Ross saw a head doctor that day. He realized, again, there was more to life than baseball.
Something he’s going to find out sooner or later.
Depending on how far the Cubs advance in the postseason.