FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At least on the depth chart, David Ross might fall under the category of backup catcher. But the reason the Red Sox brought him on board for the next two years is because that complementary role doesn't even come close to summing up what Ross can mean to the teams he plays for.
Ross is a thinking man's catcher who will absorb himself in just about every pitch the Red Sox throw this season.
Ross might be behind the plate, or he might be observing incumbent starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But Ross is always watching.
And you can be sure his observations will filter their way through the dugout and into the clubhouse and even to nearby restaurants.
The pitcher-catcher relationship, the way Ross looks at it, is vital to winning baseball games.
"Sometimes I'll just go out and we'll have dinner and we'll talk about what they feel, and I'll try to listen to them and how they feel and what they're working on, and in my mind, I'll try to work with them on that," said Ross. "I mean, everybody's different. You have to adjust to certain guys. Some guys are easy to talk to; some guys want to be left alone. At some point, you have to be a teammate and get on the same page and talk to each other. That's all."
Playing for the Braves the past four seasons, Ross backed up Brian McCann, one of the most productive catchers in the game. They were an ideal mix, complementing each other just about perfectly. It's not hard to imagine Ross blending in every bit as well with Saltalamacchia, another power-hitting catcher who came up through Atlanta's farm system.
"He's one of my best buddies," Ross said of McCann. "It's hard to leave him, but we talk a lot, and me and Salty have hit it off really well. He knows Mac and the Atlanta skit. We have a lot in common."
While some players might have felt threatened to see the team go after a more veteran catcher, Saltalamacchia's eyes lit up when he heard about the move.
"It's great having a veteran guy around to help you," said Saltalamacchia. "When you have two younger guys, you're trying to compete all the time, and it's a competition rather than everyone trying to get better."
Following last year's retirement of Jason Varitek, Saltalamacchia missed having that constant positive presence to bounce ideas off of.
"He's going to offer the same thing [as Varitek]," Saltalamacchia said. "He's a guy who has been around the game a long time and can help me out in a lot of different ways. At the same time, he's fun. He interjects the positive -- never the negative, which is what you want. You want to be around a positive influence. That's just what makes everybody get better. It's been a lot of fun already."
Though the 35-year-old Ross is every bit as serious as Varitek when it comes to studying the game, he has a much looser personality. Ross doesn't mind making someone the butt of his jokes -- nor does he mind being the subject of someone else's.
"David, I'm not even sure why they brought him over here. He's one of those guys you don't like playing against and you don't like having him on your team. We'll make the adjustment," said Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster, his tongue firmly planted in cheek.
How did Ross become a catcher?
"In Little League, I was the fat kid, to be honest with you," Ross said. "I was the kid that was short and fat, and that's where they used to put the catcher. I actually enjoyed it. I started going back there and I really liked it. The rest is history, I guess. I kept playing and learning and still playing and learning."
Even if he's not fat anymore.
"I grew a little, but those love handles are creeping up on me, the older I get," quipped Ross.
A right-handed hitter, Ross should also give the Red Sox some punch on days he starts. Last season, he belted nine homers in 196 at-bats, producing a .770 OPS.
Just don't bore Ross by trying to talk to him about hitting.
"There's a lot more work to trying to get those 27 outs," Ross said. "There's a lot more work you have to put in, and it's getting your teammates through something that's really tough to do. It's a lot of pride I take in that. Hitting home runs is definitely fun, but it's a quick thing. It's more fun to be on the same page with a pitcher."
When Ross is behind the plate, he feels like he has the key to his team's ignition.
"I like seeing the whole field," Ross said. "I like feeling like me and the pitcher are working. I like being involved. When you're out on the field, the little bit in high school, I played a little bit of third base some days and I felt lost. Even playing the outfield for a day or DH-ing, I didn't feel like I was in the game.
"I like being part of every pitch. The good thing about a catcher, if you have a bad night hitting, and your team wins, you feel like you did something positive for the team. I always try to take something positive from the days we win and I was a part of it."
Manager John Farrell can't say exactly what role Ross will play yet, but he knows Ross will be involved.
"The one thing we knew going into this year is that David is more capable than just a traditional backup catcher where it's just 35 or 40 games," Farrell said. "He's an encouraging catcher -- encouraging from the standpoint of encouraging the pitcher. Just talking to guys who have thrown to him, there's been such positive feedback on the interactions they've had after throwing a bullpen [session] or while throwing a bullpen [session] just on David's comments in between pitches.
"He engages every guy he catches. I think pitchers feel that connection and they feel the support from. That's one of the reasons that makes him so valuable, is that he gets the most out of a given pitcher."