CHICAGO -- As he was wrapping up his session in the interview room Friday, Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross was asked if he was able to get the ball from his 100th major league home run, hit earlier during a long day of baseball -- and rain delays -- at Wrigley Field.
"The clubhouse guy told me there's a guy that has the ball and wants just a picture with me," he said. "I'm gonna do that after I leave here, so that's cool."
Ross then paused, adding with deadpan timing:
Self-deprecating humor aside, it was Ross' day, and it's doubtful the fans would have chosen anyone else at that moment. Beside being a career milestone, Ross' three-run blast was the key blow in a four-run fourth inning in the Cubs' 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Moreover, the homer -- a no-doubter that hit off the second "N" of the new "NUVEEN" sign above the left-field bleachers -- is a symbol of how the 39-year-old has elevated his play in what he says is his final season. Ross, who hit .176 in 2015, is batting .254 with four homers and 17 runs batted in. He had one homer and nine RBIs all of last season.
"He'll admit he didn't swing the bat like he wanted to last season," pitcher Jon Lester said. "It's just nice to see him comfortable and back to being the old Rossy.
"I'm glad he did the day I was pitching to kind of add a little bit to it."
Lester, who gave up two runs (one earned) and six hits in 6⅓ innings Friday to get the victory, is the reason Ross is a Cub. One of Lester's conditions for signing as a free agent before the 2015 season was that the team sign Ross as well. It seemed an insignificant move at the time, but the veteran backup quickly established himself as a clubhouse leader.
Lester was asked to describe what Ross means to the team, on and off the field.
"I don't think you really can," Lester said. "Until you're around him day in and day out, I don't think you can put into words what he means to a team. I think that's why he's been around for so long.
"Obviously, he's a great catch-and-throw catcher. He calls a great game. He's been a backup for a long time, but he brings so much more to us and to the game than being a backup catcher. He makes our clubhouse better, he makes our guys better. He knows how to go about pushing buttons with certain guys and getting the best out of them. I know that's true with myself. He knows how to say the right things without going too far."
To get an idea of what Ross means to the players, all you had to do was check out the reaction in the dugout when he hit the homer.
"The guys were excited. I was excited," Ross said. "I think my favorite part was rounding second base and looking in the dugout."
That has been the case for each of his homers as the milestone approached.
"It makes me smile every time, seeing everybody counting down for me and they're as happy as I am," he said. "That makes me feel good."
His first: Ross was asked if he remembered his first home run. "I do. Mark Grace," he said, referring to the former Cubs first baseman who was pitching mop-up for Arizona in the ninth inning against the Dodgers, already trailing 18-0. "That was a bomb. Every time I see him, I tell him how far I hit it."
Soler eclipse: The Cubs' most impressive blast of the game came just before Ross' homer in the fourth inning, when Jorge Soler cracked a 452-foot solo shot that hit midway up the left-field scoreboard.
"That home run there, I would be really pleased to hit that drive on any par-5 and have it sit up in the short hairs," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That thing was far -- loud and far."