By Vincent Landolfi Jr.
You could hear the exuberance coming through the phone all the way from Venice Beach, Calif.
“I’m pumped!” said Ryan Kalish (RBC Class of 2006), when asked how he was doing. “With everything I’ve been through and all the injuries, I am just glad for the opportunity!”
That opportunity comes in the form of an invite to the Chicago Cubs major league spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., via his recently executed AAA contract with the Cubbies.
Optimistic about the future and the possibility of being a part of the team that ends the major league’s longest World Series drought, Kalish is healthy for the first time in almost three years.
“I have to prove everything all over again,” the speedy outfielder acknowledged. “All of my rehab took a lot of time, but I feel great for the first time in a long while.”
Specifically, since April 2011.
The former Caseys star was coming off an amazing major league debut in August 2010 as an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. After a late-season call-up, during which Kalish got a hit and then scored a run in his first at bat, he played regularly throughout August and September. During that span he batted .252 with some power – including a grand slam – showed off his base-path speed, and made some spectacular defensive plays in the outfield, one of which landed him a spot on the ESPN Sports Center Top 10 Countdown.
The following season saw the return of All-Star Jacoby Elsbury (now a member of the Yankees) to Boston’s outfield lineup, so Kalish started the season with the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. He was to be the “first man in” should the necessity arise, but in the meantime he was featured on Pawtucket’s program cover, schedule refrigerator magnet and in the team’s video welcome message on the jumbo screen at McCoy Stadium.
Then on a cool, cloudy afternoon, RBC’s former quarterback made a beeline for a sinking line drive, in his patented, hell-bent-for-leather style. He made the catch but hit the wall hard, injuring his right shoulder and neck.
Successful shoulder surgery was performed, but the rehab process and subsequent field time aggravated the neck injury that also required an operation to fuse the C5-6 vertebrae.
“It’s interesting,” Kalish said. “I spent the last three years getting healthy, and it allowed me to get in the best shape of my life. The injuries I’ve worked through brought me to this place and time and a new level of development. Going forward, I will be staying in as good or better shape for the rest of my career.”
Staying in shape, an almost certainty, is one thing. Staying healthy is another.
Will Kalish have to change the football-minded, tough approach he takes to playing defense in the outfield?
“I may have to make some adjustments,” he conceded. “In my head, before I dive for a ball, I have to be aware that there are some not meant to be caught. Also, it’s important to keep in mind the game situation, like, if one team or another has a big lead. But I obviously promote winning. If we need to make a play, I am going to go after it.”
An interesting bit of information is how it came about that Kalish is going to “go after it” for the Cubs organization after being with the Red Sox since his graduation from Red Bank Catholic in 2006. One might have thought, initially, that his former Boston manager, Tony Francona, who thought very highly of the former Shrewsbury resident, might reach out to him from Cleveland when he became available. But the Indians outfield was crowded, so that reunion never developed.
However, Francona was not the only former Boston decision-maker who had been impressed with Kalish during his time there. Former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein, who now holds the same position with the Cubs, took a flyer on his former sixth-round draft pick.
“At this point in my life, I’m in a place where I just have a lot of love for everybody that has been with me along this path,” Kalish said in an interview with WEEI.com. “That includes the Red Sox and everything we’ve been through together.”
So what can be expected of this now 25-year-old prospect with a new team and a fresh start?
“Of course, my ultimate goal is to make the major league roster and play consistently while staying healthy. But I would not be disappointed to start the season at AAA (Iowa Cubs, Des Moines), and get the reps I need to get back to game speed.”
Kalish is also excited to swing his bat with some minor adjustments he made since his last major league stint.
“In all the time off I had, I was able to watch and study my swing and learn some things,” he said.
He went on to credit former Bosox outfielder Scott Podesednik with helping him work out some “mechanical stuff.
“It’s basically to have a solid plan at the plate,” Kalish said. “That includes trying to get the bat in the zone as soon as possible and to have it stay there as long as possible. I’m excited to see my swing!”
Hopefully, all of the hard work Kalish has put in, and improvements he’s made will have opposing pitchers singing a different tune. There will be further adjustments to be made with being on a different team in a new location and a National League team.
“I’m just kind of excited to see where this goes,” he said. “I’m feeling myself come back from that frail, fragile person that I felt I was. Right now, I’m getting the athleticism back. I feel better than I have in a long time, and everything happens for a reason.”
Let’s hope one of the reasons is so that all of Kalish’s supporters here at home can eventually take the quick trip down the turnpike to Philadelphia or take a train and subway to Queens to see him roam the outfield once again. This time it will be against the Phillies and Mets wearing a great big “C” on his chest.
Who said you can’t go home again?