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Original Issue

Gratitude Adjustment

Cody Ross had just finished lunch with a friend at a restaurant near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week when the bill came and Ross noticed that they hadn't been charged for their drinks.

This is what you might have expected him to think: The drinks must be on the house because I'm Cody freakin' Ross, MVP of the NL Championship Series, slugging rightfielder for the World Series--winning Giants and newly minted baseball hero.

This is what Ross actually thought: They forgot to charge us for the drinks.

So he asked if there had been a mistake, and the bartender told him she was a longtime Giants fan and that she had picked up the tab as a way of saying thank you. Which was another way of saying, It's because you're Cody freakin' Ross.

It has been nearly a month since Ross completed his shockingly spectacular postseason, a 15-game stretch in which he had 10 extra-base hits and 10 RBIs, including a pair of homers against Phillies ace Roy Halladay. Since then more than a few restaurant owners have told him to put away his wallet, and he's had, oh, a jillion fans pump his hand, slap him on the back or chant Co-dy Ross! Co-dy Ross! as he walked by. Ross's off-season has been as charmed as his postseason. Invitations for speaking engagements and autograph shows roll in daily. Fellow restaurant patrons startle him with standing ovations as he heads out after a meal. It often takes people a second look to realize that the soft-spoken, clean-domed guy in jeans and cowboy boots is Ross, but once they do, he ends up posing for so many photos that his nickname, Smiles, has never been more fitting.

But Ross, 29, still finds the adulation surprising. For him, every time is like the first time. Every encounter reminds him anew of how his performance has earned him not just recognition, but affection—especially from fans grateful for his helping the Giants win their first World Series title since moving to San Francisco.

"Crazy, fantastic," he says, searching for words to describe the attention he's gotten since the Game 5 victory over the Rangers. "Touching, humbling. I'm trying to take all of it in. At the parade after the Series, there were hundreds of thousands of people there, maybe a million, and I wanted to thank all of them individually. I was trying to look every single one of them in the eye."

The relationship between athlete and fan is often complicated by unreasonable expectations on both sides. The athlete looks for unconditional loyalty and support from the fan; the fan demands that the athlete deliver a flawless performance, game after game. But sometimes, all too rarely, the connection works perfectly, and both fan and athlete develop a deep appreciation for what the other has provided. Ross values the love from San Francisco supporters as much as they treasure the championship he helped bring them. Sometimes the fans say, "Thank you," and the athlete says, "No, thank you"—and they both truly mean it.

It helps even more when the fans can relate to a player the way they can with Ross. There's a regular-guy quality about him that made him beloved in Florida before the Giants picked him up on waivers from the Marlins in August. He has been a solid big leaguer (an average of more than 18 homers and 70 RBIs over the last four seasons) but by no means a star. He's not particularly big (5' 10", 195 pounds) or fast, but he is intense. "People see themselves in Cody," says San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy. "The average guy thinks, If I ever got lucky enough to play in the big leagues, that's what I'd look like, that's the kind of effort I would give."

Ross is also celebrating the way most fans might imagine they would, not even pretending to strike a cool celebrity pose. He's blown away by it all, and he's trying to hold on to every moment. Even as the Giants' postseason run was building, Ross was squirreling away mementos. He kept an unopened champagne bottle from each of their four clubhouse celebrations, for winning the NL West, an NL Division Series, the NLCS and the World Series. The jersey he wore in the clinching game of the World Series is at the Scottsdale home he shares with his wife and two children. Ross plans to frame the jersey, along with photographs from the postseason, and put them all on display, along with the MVP trophy, as a shrine to two magical months.

He hasn't forgotten the heartbreak of being waived by the Marlins after 4½ years. "I would have done anything to stay there," Ross says. "The day they let me go was the worst day of my career, but what I didn't realize was that it would also turn out to be the best day of my career." During spring training in 2009, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had told the team he would give his red Ferrari to any player who won the NLCS MVP. So recently Ross playfully texted Loria with a simple question: "Is that offer still good?" Loria offered Ross his congratulations, but no Ferrari.

Ross doesn't need a four-wheeled reward. He appreciates the ones he gets every time he walks down the street, when he meets another Giants fan and they end up thanking each other. Ross didn't get a flashy sports car, but he is enjoying one sweet ride.

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Sometimes both player and fan truly prize what each gets from the other. Cody Ross values Giants fans' love as much as they treasure the title he helped bring.