By Bruce Levine-
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- What makes David Ross such an important player on the 2015 Cubs? The answer goes beyond the fact that he will be ace Jon Lester's catcher for the lion's share of the $155-million pitcher's starts.
Ross has been a favored teammate everywhere he has played in his 13-year MLB career that spans six teams and seven stops, with some saying he has the unique ability to bring out the best in fellow players on and off the field.
So I asked him -- what in his mind makes a great teammate?
"It is a learned skill to be able to communicate with people you work with," Ross said. "I have been with so many different teams, I don't think I have tried to be any certain way. This is my seventh team that I have been on. You just learn to know guys, to fit in. The older I have gotten, I guess I have received more respect for what I have been able to do in this game."
That respect for Ross is industry wide and a bit surprising for a player who turns 38 next week and is coming off a season in which he hit .184. His age and batting average didn't matter to the Cubs front office, which considered him a winner.
"For me, it's a group of guys all on board with the same common goal," Ross said when asked to define a winner. "That is a daily thing, not something general. It's about how you are going to attack the other team on that day. It is how you are going to treat and approach each other on and off of the field. The way you respect the game as a collective group is also part of the equation. Being accountable is something that is a big part of all of that for me. Being accountable to your teammates to me is number one."
Starting catcher Miguel Montero and Ross have been brought in to be atop the depth chart and essentially replace Welington Castillo, who is still on the team but also on the trading block. Certainly this has been a sensitive issue as Castillo has improved on many different levels as a professional catcher over the last three seasons.
"That was my biggest concern coming over here," Ross said. "Not knowing him, I didn't know how Weli was going to deal with this unique situation. What I have learned is he is one of the best human beings I have had the pleasure to be around. He has been a great communicator and welcomed us as teammates and people. That has been very, very impressive to me. I hope he is with us and we carry three catchers. He will be in the game a long, long time with his work ethic and character."
Ross also explained his uniquely close relationship with Lester, who he caught in Boston the past two seasons and was teammates for part of 2008. They won a World Series together in 2013.
"We connect on a lot of important levels beyond pitcher and catcher," Ross said. "We have a mental connection that allows a lot of trust when we are out there. We have gone through some things in our careers together. We have had tough times, hard times as friends and teammates that we were able to move forward from with success that have created that trust."
Ross will have impact every day whether he plays or just goes about his connection with the other 24 players and the coaching staff.
"I get it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "One meeting with David and I am all in with him."
Ross feels the same way about his new manager.
"I have already learned a lot from him," Ross said. "I look forward and I am super excited to play for him. He is a great teacher and is much more old school than people think."
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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