Red Sox backup catcher David Ross suffered two concussions in a span of 33 days earlier this season. Both were the result of foul balls hitting him in the facemask.
The second, June 14 in Baltimore, was so severe that doctors told Ross he should return to his home in Tallahassee, Fla., to recover. The loud noises and bright lights at major league games would make sitting in the dugout detrimental.
On Thursday, Ross was back with his teammates after being cleared by a specialist. The game against the Tampa Bay Rays was rained out and will be played on Monday. But Ross was thrilled to be back in the clubhouse.
“You don’t realize how much you miss something until it’s taken away from you,” he said.
Because Ross was placed on the 60-day disabled list, he cannot return to the roster until Aug. 14. He hopes to be ready around that time.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “That’s the plan. I expect to be back as soon as possible. It’s one of things you can’t push. I tried to push it and that’s what got me into this predicament. It’s one of those things I’m going to take my time and do what the doctor says.
“Now that I’m getting back healthy, I can really see how bad I was. It took being home and just some down time to figure that out.”
The 36-year-old Ross has been largely free of symptoms for three days. On Tuesday, he passed all the tests administered by Dr. Michael Collins, a concussion specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
But his recovery is not complete.
“Things are kind of day to day,” Ross said. “There’s days I’ve felt really good for half a day and then I’ll have about two hours’ worth not so great. They don’t want that stuff to come back.
“There’s still a threshold they could push me to things not being good. They want to get past that so when I do take another foul ball or have something, there’s no panic. I’ll be back to normal.”
Being home with his wife, Hyla, and two children in the middle of the season was unusual for Ross, a 12-year major league veteran.
“It was weird. I’ve never been home during the season,” he said. “The perspective from home, just watching on TV, there’s not a more frustrating thing you can do when you’re on a team. I’ve yelled at the TV too many nights. I’m glad to be back so I can yell from the dugout.”
The concussions left Ross with problems in his vestibular system, which controls balance and movement. He also had headaches, nausea that felt like seasickness, and irritability.
“There were some spots where you get that headache coming on and some things are distracting you and it just kind of gets annoying in your head,” Ross said. “Your attitude changes. My wife would say I’m not really behind my eyes. Kind of spaced out.”
Ross has been working out, mainly weightlifting and cardio work on an elliptical machine or stationary bicycle. He also has played catch and hit baseballs off a tee.
“It should pick up as long as everything goes well. It should pick up pretty fast,” he said. “I’ll be doing some running drills and things with head movement. Getting used to the environment. Some of those things bothered me a little bit when I was home.”
Ross has spoken to Collins, a Red Sox fan who is originally from Bangor, on an almost daily basis.
“He’s the best in the business. The guy is unreal,” Ross said. “He helped me out a lot. He’s all positive.”
Collins told Ross that a concussion had to be treated like any other injury. His rehab work has included vision exercises and balance testing.
“It’s scary to think about what happened to him,” Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz said. “Catchers go through a lot physically. When you get concussions like that, you worry about the guy beyond baseball. It’s great to see him back here and smiling.”
Initially, Ross has been told to spend only three innings in the dugout and to work out at 50 percent of his usual effort. He will build from there, and eventually start a minor league rehabilitation assignment.
“Once I get up to 70 or 80 percent things will go pretty quick I think,” he said.
Ross had played 23 games and hit .185 before the second concussion. The Sox signed him to a two-year, $6.2 million contract because they valued his defensive skills and righthanded power.
Beyond that, he was one of the most popular players on the team.
“It was great to see him again,” said Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the lead catcher. “We had become good friends and he was somebody I could go to with questions.”
Ross accompanied the team to Baltimore on Thursday night. Manager John Farrell was glad to see it.
“This is one of the most respected guys in our clubhouse. He’s full of life and energy,” Farrell said. “For some of the younger guys, there might be a little bit of a calming influence just based on what he’s experienced.”