|Among the highlights of Ryan Kalish’s time with the Red Sox was a grand slam against the Angels Aug. 17. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Kalish always a man in motion
It happened on the nights before games, mostly. Ryan Kalish was compelled to go outside and clear his head with a few rounds of soft toss. He needed the mindlessness of the exercise, in a childhood and adolescence rife with competitiveness. So, on nights his father was out of town on business, his mother would make the tosses, often covering her pajamas with a mink coat on cold New Jersey nights.
They would spend upward of 30 minutes, often with Kalish’s younger brother Jake, a piece of a daily routine Kalish felt he needed to complete. It was the same drive that left him challenging his parents, racing his mother, playing football, basketball, and baseball, always ready to do everything he was asked.
“I want to be good,’’ Kalish said. “I want to be among the best guys that are here. I want to be a key part of a big team. It’s not good enough for me to be here for a couple of weeks, and that’s what I think has been my whole life.
“She would go out there with me when my Dad wasn’t around and if I didn’t do that before I went to sleep, I wouldn’t be able to sleep.’’
Not that sleep is coming more easily now. After being drafted out of high school in 2006, the 22-year-old Kalish this season made the jump to the majors with only 37 games above Double A under his belt. Suddenly, he was in the Red Sox lineup in center field, replacing Jacoby Ellsbury at a high-profile position on a high-profile club.
And while he started quickly, a bit surprising given the adjustment periods he faced at each level in the minors, Kalish has three hits (two doubles) in his last 28 at-bats since a grand slam against the Angels Aug. 17.
“You’ve got to channel the positive energy, sometimes it can get negative,’’ said Kalish, who is hitting .231 in 78 at-bats for the Red Sox. “That’s what I try not to get is negative, but it’s not always that easy. I have bad thoughts, like I need to get a hit rather than just get up there and see it and hit it hard. That’s the right thinking.
“I’m competitive. I don’t expect to do this. But it’s happening and, like I said, it’s positive thoughts. I can’t say that I’ve been totally positive this whole time, for the last week or so, because that would be a lie. But you just have to work through it and get over it. It’s not going to help you. Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to help anything.’’
And it nearly didn’t happen. Kalish was hampered by shoulder and back injuries his senior season at Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic High School, limiting him to DH duty. Still, the Sox watched as Kalish didn’t swing and miss once the entire year.
“The thing that sticks out was just his energy,’’ said Jason McLeod, formerly the Sox director of amateur scouting who is now the assistant general manager of the Padres. “He was a really high energy kid. Obviously a very good athlete. Yeah, he was hurt that year, not playing in the field, but he was a kid with a very good swing, strong, and athletic.’’
Even then, McLeod said, they could see a little bit of Trot Nixon in him.
“The comparison was the hard-nosed player, similar type of athlete,’’ McLeod said. “Ryan was just one of those kids that was going to run through a brick wall. He played so hard every day that you needed to tell him to pump the brakes every now and then. But I think the comparisons are certainly warranted.’’
He was so competitive he raced his mother Eileen as a child. “He wasn’t an easy kid to raise,’’ she said.
Once, concerned about his need to win at 5 or 6 years old, Eileen spoke to her tennis pro about her elder son, asking whether she should let him win. Her pro told her to “never, never let him win.’’
But there’s only so much a mother can control.
“He just always had that intense desire to want to do well, sometimes even to a fault,’’ Steve said. “Just trying to do too much. That’s his mentality. I think he’s learned over time, especially playing every day, you’re going to have your good days, you’ll have your off days. But the work ethic, getting dirty, just going the extra mile was him.’’
Perhaps 20 or 30 family and friends were sitting in the Kalish house eating pizza and drinking champagne and beer as the outfielder stepped to the plate for the first at-bat of his major league career that Saturday, just a couple of hours after surprising his parents with a phone call that left them thinking he had been traded.
“They kept coming to my house all week because we have NESN here,’’ Eileen said. “They were watching here while we were up there watching right at Fenway. They were even helping with my laundry.’’
His parents went to New York, too, but only attended three of the four games at Yankee Stadium, wanting to be in front of the television to hear ESPN color commentator Joe Morgan announce their son’s name, something Eileen called “unbelievable.’’
But where will they be watching him next season?
While the Sox have been patching the outfield as best they can, using Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Jeremy Hermida, Josh Reddick, Eric Patterson, Bill Hall, and Jonathan Van Every to fill in for the injured starters, it will presumably be filled next season. But with Mike Cameron coming off surgery to repair an abdominal tear and Ellsbury coming off a season interrupted by rib injuries, that leaves questions for 2011. And yet Kalish could still find himself back in the minors.
“We’re not just going to hand over spots to these young guys before they prove really that they can do it,’’ director of player development Mike Hazen said recently. “I don’t think the rush is just to hand those jobs over right away without some competition or without us exploring all other options as well. I don’t think we’ve ever done that. If at the end of the day the best option is one of those guys . . . then we’ll see what happens at that point.’’
The Sox are likely to explore some of the corner outfielders on the free agent market, including Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford. Given that, and who they have under contract, it might not be until 2012 the Sox have room, when J.D. Drew’s contract is up.
For now, though, Kalish is going to take what he’s being given and enjoy it.
“It’s what we as baseball players want to do with our lives, so it’s living the dream pretty much,’’ Kalish said. “That’s what I’ve been doing. And it’s been cool because it’s a situation where we’re playing for something. It’s not like I’m playing for nothing right now. Obviously we’re always playing for something, but this is special. We’re in a pennant race for the Red Sox.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.