Former Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross in finals of “Dancing With the Stars”

David Ross during the Disney themed week, MONDAY, APRIL 17 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eric McCandless)
DAVID ROSS

This was posted Friday, May 19, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Athletes tend to do well on “Dancing With the Stars” for obvious reasons. They are already physically in shape and have the discipline to practice for hours on end. As a result, nine of the 23 winners to date are from arenas ranging from football (Donald  Driver, Emmitt Smith) to gymnastics (Laurie Hernandez) to figure skating (Kristi Yamaguchi.)

But David Ross, the former Atlanta Brave and first Major League Baseball player to compete on the sturdy reality competition show over its 12 years on ABC, was not a favorite to get anywhere close to the finals airing Monday. He started with zero dance experience and looked to finish somewhere in the middle. (The winner will be named on Tuesday night.)

Yet over the weeks, he steadily improved and his positive attitude and rugged good looks drew plenty of votes from the “Dancing” audience. Those votes count for half his weekly score. Though ABC does not reveal demographic breakdowns of voters, the average age of the viewer is about 61, among the oldest on broadcast TV, according to Nielsen ratings research.

“People always have to root for an underdog, and he fits the mold of an underdog,” said Jeffery Kare on the Gold Derby website. That gaming odds website gave Ross slim 20 to 1 odds of taking home the mirror-ball trophy over NFL player Rashad Jennings (11/2) and the overwhelming favorite Normani Kordei (1/4), a singer in the female group Fifth Harmony.

The four “Dancing With the Stars” judges, who rate dances on a 1 to 10 scale, have given Ross an average of 7.8 over 12 dances. That sounds impressive except Jennings has averaged an 8.8 and Kordei a whopping 9.1. Ross has never even received a perfect 10 score from any judge to date. His footwork tends to be his downfall.

Ross was asked by “Dancing” producers to join the show not because he was a big-name player like Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter. His appeal was the home run he hit in Game 7 of the World Series last year to help the Chicago Cubs win the title for the first time in 108 years. More dramatically, it was his last career game since he had already planned to retire at age 39.

Over 15 seasons on seven teams, the journeyman was mostly a part-time catcher, including four seasons with the Braves from 2009 to 2012, where he had his most consistent offensive years.

Cub Nation fans have surely boosted Ross’ fortunes as he surpassed superior dancers such as Heather Morris (“Glee”), figure skating great Nancy Kerrigan and gold medal winning gymnast Simone Biles. Viewers were shocked by Biles’ departure this past Monday since she was a favorite for a finale spot from day one two months ago.

“I was so upset and really don’t care to watch anymore,” said Beyonce Alowishus, producer for the syndicated Atlanta-based “Ricky Smiley Morning Show” and a big fan of Biles. “He was good but Simone was great.”

Deanna Dennis, a former AV technician at Turner Broadcasting, has been rooting for Ross.

“He’s certainty not a natural dancer,” she said. “But as an athlete who struggled at times to stay in the majors, he knows how to be coached and how to painstakingly practice a skill until he has it right.”

Besides, Dennis said, “the people sitting at home on a weeknight watching something like ‘Dancing with the Stars’ are probably going to be squishy middle-aged women like me who look at somebody like David Ross and are like, ‘Oh my God he is the cutest, sweetest thing ever!’ and jump right on his bandwagon.”

The catcher began his dance journey with a goofy quick step to “Go Cubs Go” and received respectable 7s from the judges. Over the weeks, he tried the cha-cha-cha, jazz,  jive and the Argentine tango. His past two dances – a traditional waltz and a traditional tango – landed him the most praise and his highest scores: 9’s across the board.

For the finale Monday, Ross and partner Lindsay Arnold will do a Viennese waltz to “Let’s Hurt Tonight” by OneRepublic and a freestyle routine to a medley of “It Takes Two” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

“I can’t believe how much fun I’m having, and the competition just blows my mind,” Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times during rehearsal for Monday night’s live telecast. “Obviously, I’m not the best dancer in the group, but it’s just fun to be part of it. … And it shows how many people out there are voting for me, and it makes me feel the warm and fuzzies inside. I’m just so thankful. It just blows my mind.”

TV PREVIEW

“Dancing With the Stars,” 8 p.m. Monday  (final live performances that count), 8:30 p.m. Tuesday (winner is named), ABC

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