Kalish a positive force
Team-first approach and solid skills make him valuable to Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. — His locker might not have occupied the same spot back then, but looking back at his first spring training with the Red Sox, Ryan Kalish can recall with a degree of certainty that “actually I was in this row’’ of the clubhouse at the player development complex.
“It was a scary place,’’ said Kalish. “I mean, shoot, I didn’t know anybody and I wanted to make friends quick and get involved.
“Now it’s a long ways away from what it used to be. Now, I’m here and it’s a lot different. I have friends, it’s a good time, and everybody’s close here, so it’s cool.’’
The outfielder’s newfound comfort level is based in part on the success he had last season when called up from Pawtucket. With Mike Cameron (abdomen) and Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs) on the shelf, Kalish made a bit of a splash patrolling center field and hitting .252 with 11 doubles, 1 triple, 4 homers (including two grand slams), and 24 RBIs in 53 games.
He had a strong finishing kick, too, going 10 for 30 in his final 10 games. In almost any other year, he would have a solid platform upon which to launch a campaign for a spot on the 25-man roster.
But with the acquisition of Carl Crawford, the return of a healthy Cameron and Ellsbury, and the presence of J.D. Drew for at least one more season, there are very few job vacancies. Instead of grousing about the crowded outfield, though, Kalish is thrilled about having Crawford.
“It’s total excitement,’’ Kalish said. “No disappointment here.
“First of all, I’ve only known Carl for about four days now and he’s easily one of the coolest guys I’ve met. He’s just very down-to-earth and he loves to make friends and it’s cool for me to see that he’s like that.
“I haven’t seen him play yet, so I’m excited to see that, too.’’
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Kalish knows he’s likely destined for another tour in Pawtucket, where he hit .294 with 5 homers and 18 RBIs in 37 games last year.
“If that’s the way it ends up being, I think it would be great for him,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “He knows we’d be very comfortable with him being on our ball club, but to finish his progression, it would be nice for him to have some time in Triple A.’’
“That’s fine,’’ said Kalish, who will turn 23 March 28. “You don’t even have to ask me. Whatever the organization asks me to do, I’m willing to do it.’’
It was that team-oriented approach that helped Kalish earn a promotion last summer.
“To be honest, we loved his demeanor,’’ Francona said. “I think we used the [name] ‘Trot Nixon’ a little bit last spring with his approach, but he wasn’t ready to be in the big leagues. That’s not a knock on him. He was still in Double A.
“When he came to us, it was amazing how much he had improved from the end of March to the middle of July. So all his attributes he brought — the way he approached the game, the way he played. And then you see his swing get a little shorter, you see the way he played the outfield, and his ability to play center field, it was really exciting.’’
Kalish showed flashes of brilliance in the outfield. On one highlight-reel catch in Tampa, he ran vertically toward the warning track and went airborne to snag a liner by B.J. Upton in right-center, tumbling to the ground and then springing up to prevent a runner from advancing.
“It’s a totally different thing when you’re playing on the veteran club like this,’’ said Kalish. “You just have to go out there and play hard and prove to everybody that you’re here to play.
“Regardless of results, you’ve got to play hard, because the veteran guys will respect you for that. It’s the thing I pride myself in. It’s just going out there and giving it everything I have every day.’’
While he didn’t make the immediate impression Daniel Nava did — Nava hit a grand slam in his first major league at-bat — Kalish proved productive, going 2 for 4 in his debut July 31 against the Tigers. Kalish eventually outdid Nava, hitting two grand slams at Fenway Park.
“First of all, that was a spectacular moment,’’ Kalish said of Nava’s grand slam. “It’s too hard for me to live up to that. For myself, just going out there, like I keep saying, you just want to show everyone that you’re here and you’re ready and you’re going to have a good attitude.’’
That approach continues to serve Kalish well. During a minor league prospect camp at Boston College in January, Kalish showed up — uninvited — to lend his support.
“I think he’s the shining example, at least from last year, of going about it the right way and seeing those things pay off,’’ said Mike Hazen, Red Sox director of player development. “It’s not going to pay off for all these guys in the same time frame it did for Ryan, because hopefully we’re not going to go through the injury situation we went through last year.
“His name has been brought up quite a bit in this program. How you go about it the right way, how you assimilate.’’
It’s how Kalish turned a scary place like his first major league clubhouse into a comfortable working environment, forging friendships with prospects such as first baseman Lars Anderson, catcher Luis Exposito, and infielders Yamaico Navarro and Oscar Tejeda.
“These are all guys I’ve played with,’’ Kalish said. “It’s just crazy that we’re all getting up and trying to show everyone that you’re planning to make the major leagues.
“Obviously, our first goal is to help the Red Sox, but trades and everything happen, so you have to keep an open mind and just play, because we’re playing a game and you’ve got to enjoy this until it’s over.
“It’s already been six years and, hopefully, one day I can say, ‘Damn, it’s been 20 years.’ I just want to keep playing as long as I possibly can and be healthy.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.