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Oral history: The time David Ross hit his first career homer off Mark Grace

CHICAGO -- It was Sept. 2, 2002. A day current Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross and former Cub Mark Grace will remember forever. Grace was playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks under Bob Brenly -- who would go on to work as a Cubs television analyst -- one year after the Diamondbacks helped Grace to a World Series ring. Now he was going to get his first and only chance to pitch in the big leagues.

The Diamondbacks were down 18-0 against the Los Angeles Dodgers going into the ninth inning while Ross was playing in his fourth big league game. Another former Cub and good friend of Grace, Rick Sutcliffe, was broadcasting the blowout for ESPN.

In the ninth inning Ross hit his first career home run off of Grace. Now, after hitting 99 more over the next 15 years, he's getting ready to retire after the season, but not before some reminiscing. Three of the participants that night are at Wrigley Field this weekend; Grace is the Diamondbacks hitting coach and Brenly a broadcaster.

Here are Ross', Grace's, Brenly's and Sutcliffe’s memories of the home run.

Grace: It was a big game. Us and the Dodgers were battling it out for the Western division. I remember the day before we had used a bunch of our relievers, then that night we had a short start by somebody (Rick Helling), then a couple of our relievers went in there and got cuffed around.

Ross: I went into the game late and got my first major league hit off Eddie Oropesa, sidearm lefty. A double in the gap.

Brenly: We were getting our rear ends kicked by the Dodgers that night, and they were over there yucking it up having a good time on the first-base dugout. We weren't having as much fun on the third-base side.

Grace: The only reliever left was Byung-hyun Kim, our closer. I went to Bob Brenly. That was my last year in the big leagues. I wasn't any good. I went up to Bob and I said, "Hey, look, next inning I can go out there and throw strikes." He was like, "Are you sure?" And I said, "Yes, I'm sure." I won't embarrass us by walking the park.

Sutcliffe: We were doing the game for ESPN and it's a blowout, and I look down in the dugout and I'm winding my arm telling him (Grace) to get it going. He looked at me and tells me later he walked over to Bob Brenly and said, "I'll clean this mess up."

Brenly: We didn't want to use any more relievers in a blowout. We were looking up and down at our position players and Grace came over and said, "I'll give you an inning." Now, he told me he had never pitched before. Never in little league, high school, college, nowhere. Never. I thought, "What the heck?"

Grace: I told him, "Just so you know, the first thing I'm going to do when I go out there, I'm going to do Mike Fetters (impression)." I did Fetters because we were playing the Dodgers and he pitched for the Dodgers three years prior. I knew the Dodgers would get the joke as well as us.

Ross: I remember Grace coming in and the crowd is going crazy. I'm young and still paying attention to the game. Most guys are checked out in a blowout. Not me. He did Fetters up there. That was funny.

Grace: Once I finished my warm-up tosses, every Dodger was out in the dugout, even guys that were out of the game by that time. They were wearing T-shirts and laughing. I did the Fetters and the fans loved it.

Sutcliffe: He gets out to the mound looks at me and mouths, "What do I do?"

Grace: Yes, I was looking up at him laughing and saying, "Can you believe what's going on?" I remember I got Jeff Reboulet out on a fly ball. I got Tyler Houston on a fly ball, then David Ross comes up. I never heard of the freaking guy. I figured he stinks.

Ross: He threw a batting practice fastball, and Reboulet took it and he ended up getting him out. Then he did the same thing to the hitter in front of me. A little BP fastball and Houston took it. Then he got him out. So I'm thinking to myself, if he lobs that in to me I'm swinging.

Sutcliffe: I told him fastball away. So he gets the first two guys out and now David Ross comes up. And I had never heard of David Ross, so I said curveball, and he mouths to me -- and it's all on ESPN -- "I don't have one." So I said fastball away. It turns out he didn't really have a fastball either.

Grace: Sure enough I threw him a 68 mph fastball down the middle and he tattooed it a long, long way.

Ross: So he lobbed it in there and I hit it, man. I really hit it. I still have the bat. It's a Pro-Stock M110. You know, all these guys have their names on their bats and I have a Pro Stock from the minors. So I'm sprinting around the bases and I hit first base and I hear him start screaming at me.

Grace: I cursed at him all around the bases, then I realized after it was over that this poor son-of-gun waited his whole life to hit a home run in the big leagues, and of course he hits it off me in a 18-0 game.

Ross: He's cursing, "C'mon man you're stealing my thunder." I'm keeping my head down like, oh my gosh, this guy is going to kill me. I was so nervous. I hit home plate and everyone was happy for me.

Sutcliffe: Grace is screaming at him, "You can tell your kids and everyone you know you hit your first home run off of Mark freaking Grace."

Grace: I got a bad scouting report. I was told he was a good fastball hitter, so I threw a bad fastball and he still hit it a mile.

Ross: It was over pretty quick, but the next day I got a request for a radio interview with him. I remember I was laughing the whole time and I let him talk. He was letting me have it. I probably didn't say five words. Then we took a picture together. I still have the picture at home.

Grace: If I'm David Ross, I don't know if I wanted it any other way. How many guys can say their first big league home run was off a guy who threw one inning and was a position player for 16 years? I look back on it fondly.

Ross: I've been happy and proud about it because I have a story for my first home run. And it's not just some Joe Schmo. It's Mark Grace.

Grace: He usually sends me over an 8x10 [photo that] says "Way to serve it up," from David Ross.

Brenly: By the time the game was over, even though we got beat by 17 or 18 runs, we were the ones laughing because we were having so much fun watching Grace. And it was the Dodgers that got upset. They went home mad and we went home happy.

Ross: He's a great guy, which makes it fun.

Sutcliffe: It was beautiful. Two great guys. Just one of those moments in baseball where you have fun.

Grace: If he still hits them now like he did off me, he shouldn't hang them up.

Brenly: Ross hopes Grace goes into the Hall of Fame so he can say he hit his first home run off a Hall of Fame pitcher. It was awesome.