By Vincent Landolfi, Jr.
No father has ever had a better day than the one Steve Kalish experienced a week ago Sunday.
On Father’s Day, June 17th, he got to see his son Jake (George Mason University, RBR Class of 2010) play a baseball game in the highly regarded Cape Cod league of Massachusetts. That night, his elder son Ryan (RBC Class of 2006), was named the starting centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox in their interleague game versus the Chicago Cubs at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Ironically, if Boston had been playing at home, the Kalishes might have been able to attend the double-header of a lifetime. As it was, the Sox at Cubs happened to be the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball ‘Game of the Week’ on national television, which allowed the entire Kalish fan base to watch.
“We got the call late last night” Kalish’s mother Eileen told me on Father’s Day. “We were already excited to be going to Cape Cod, and after Ryan called, we hardly slept at all.”
“It was wild! It came as a bit of a surprise since I didn’t have that many games under my belt since coming back. I couldn’t sleep,” Kalish said of his call-up.
It was the first game in which Kalish played for the Boston Red Sox since September 2010. During that season, he was called up on the last day of July and started regularly the rest of the way throughout August and September. After a stellar major league spring training in 2011, Kalish was assigned to the Red Sox AAA team in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He was the ‘PawSox’ starting centerfielder, a young promising talent who had already been to and excelled in ‘the show’, and was targeted as the first ‘call up’ when an outfielder was needed in Boston, a mere 45 miles to the northeast.
But, as fate would have it, the former Red Bank Catholic standout wasn’t able to receive that call. On a cloudy, damp April day, in a game at home against the Syracuse Chiefs (whose roster coincidentally included fellow Shore Conference former star Jeff Frazier of TRHS South), Kalish was injured. On a ball hit to the shallow outfield, he came flying in, full bore, representative of the 110% style of effort he was becoming known for, and made a spectacular diving catch which resulted in a torn labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder. When extensive rehabbing caused a neck injury, Kalish needed corrective surgery and subsequent shoulder repair in September.
“I’m feeling good. Still dealing with some things, but it’s manageable and getting better every day,” Kalish said of his injuries.
Fast-forward to May, 2012. After 18 months of excruciatingly hard work and dedication, Kalish was back on the field. He quickly ascended the minor league ladder of the Red Sox system, ending up back in Pawtucket in early June. He proceeded to make an immediate impact batting nearly .400 and belting 4 homers, 2 on consecutive nights. It was then, in conjunction with Boston placing OF Ryan Sweeney on the disabled list, that Kalish finally got ‘the call’ to join Boston in Chicago.
When he reported to the team, Kalish was greeted by the Sox new manager Bobby Valentine. He asked of the young prospect: “Want to play tonight?” “Yessir!” was his immediate reply.
“That’s how he (Valentine) is,” Kalish said of his new boss. “He’ll ask you a rhetorical question just to see if you are on your toes and what your response is like.”
And about his role with team?
“It depends”, Kalish said. “It’s fun up here, and I’ll do whatever they ask of me. I’ve already started two games against lefties, and will be ready whenever I’m in the lineup. I’m here for the ride.”
Two things stood out as the former Caseys captain took the field with the ivy-covered walls in his initial big league game of 2012. The first was his offensive progression throughout the contest. Kalish was struck out in his first at bat, bounced out to the infield in his second, but then, with the game on the line, slapped a single in his third time up for his first hit of the year, and the go-ahead RBI. He then, amazingly, went from first to third, on an almost routine groundout, showcasing his trademark speed. This allowed him to score his first of hopefully many runs this year. The second thing was the comments made during the TV broadcast by ESPN’s color man, none other than the Sox former skipper, who was at the helm in Kalish’s first run in the majors, Terry Francona. He told a national audience that Kalish was the type of player who “goes all out all the time” and “is a hard-worker who gets to the ballpark early” and finally that “he will be playing right field everyday for somebody one of these days”.
One of the things that has to happen for Kalish to become an every day player is for him to remain healthy. He told the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber that he has learned there’s a way to play hard without needlessly endangering his body.
“What I’m going to have to do now is pick and choose my spots” Kalish admitted. “Sliding head-first right now is probably not something I am going to do.” And what about those eye-popping, crowd pleasing, all-out diving catches that landed Kalish on ESPN Sports Center’s Top 10 Plays in 2010 and last week in just his third game back versus the Miami Marlins? “I haven’t dove for a ball yet in the outfield (last week’s top play was actually a sitting slide), but if the time comes I’ve got to lay out for my team.” The future remains bright for Ryan Kalish. He is a mature 24 year old who has learned a lot from his short professional past, while still approaching his craft with the shoulder-to-the-wheel mentality of a man on a mission. These are qualities that make a father proud ANY day of the year.
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