Even though he spent nearly 14 months on the disabled list, the last thing Pawtucket Red Sox outfielder Ryan Kalish wants is pity.
“Maybe my nicks are a little different than other guys’,” Kalish said in an understatement. “But nobody’s feeling sorry for me. I’m not feeling sorry for me. Nobody cares about how I feel. My friends and coaches want me to feel healthy and they know what I’m dealing with. But at the end of the day, you need to produce. You need to find a way to produce while playing with pain.
“Dwight Evans even told me about being productive with pain. That’s something you need to learn as a player. Honestly, when I’m on the field, I’ve shown I can do it. But this year is different. It’s my first year after two major surgeries. Who knows? I could feel better when I’m 34 rather than when I’m 24.”
On April 21 of last season at McCoy Stadium, Kalish made a head-first, diving catch against Syracuse. Before he could blink, he was placed on the D.L. Kalish tried to return in August and played in rehab games at Lowell before he was activated by Pawtucket. But instead of finishing strong, he returned to the D.L. with an inflammation of his right trapezius muscle (which runs from the base of the neck to the shoulders). Finally, on September 14, he underwent surgery to repair a bulging disk in his neck. And on November 8 he underwent another operation, this one to repair a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder.
“I’m not playing pain free,” said Kalish. “I don’t know anybody who is on any team. I’ve had a few surgeries so people pay more attention to my pain than they pay attention to Lars Anderson’s pain. But I’m sure Lars has some things going on with him that hurt.”
Kalish was hurt again when he crashed into a fence and made a catch on July 13, which resulted in a bruised left knee and five games on the sidelines. “I just ran into the wall in right-center (while) playing hard for my team,” Kalish said without the slightest hint of bravado. “I was just going after a ball and doing what I do. That’s the price you pay to play the game hard.”
That’s another way of saying Kalish is the type of player who would run through the proverbial brick wall if necessary to make a catch. “He went Spiderman into the wall in right-center,” said manager Arnie Beyeler. “That’s how he plays. You’re not going to take that out of him. That’s what got him where he’s at.
“He’s going to play hard. That’s how he’s wired. If guys don’t play that way, they’re not the player they should be. Some guys can get away with being that kind of player with the talent or whatever they’ve got. With other guys, that’s how they’re wired. There isn’t a percentage. It’s either on or off.
“There are guys in the big leagues like that,” continued Beyeler. “Some guys are on. Some guys are off. Some guys are on and off. That’s what separates players.”
Kalish “separated” himself from the pack so adroitly that, in 2010, he jumped three levels – from Portland to Pawtucket to Boston. He finally earned a return trip to Boston on June 17 of this year when Ryan Sweeney was placed on the D.L. Granted, in 18 games with Boston, Kalish only hit .209. But he did have six doubles, nine RBI and eight walks.
“He just needs to hit,” said Beyeler. “That’s what he did before to get (Boston’s) attention. I think from a timing standpoint he’s okay. He just needs to play and get that durability built back up on your body that you get from playing every day, and getting back into the monthly grind of playing and not just the daily grind.
“He’s got good power when he swings the bat. He’s a slashing hitter with some pop. He uses the whole field and can hit lefties. He’s still a young player so the consistency of bringing that to the table every day is very important. Because of the bad luck he’s had, he hasn’t been able to do that every day on a consistent basis.”
When Kalish has been on the field this season with Pawtucket, he’s shown flashes of the ability that make him one of Boston’s top prospects. In 16 games through July 27, he was hitting .324 with four homers and 11 RBI.
“I don’t know if he’s going to be 100 percent for a while,” said Beyeler. “We kind of compare him to a guy that’s had Tommy John surgery and he’s in his first year back. Maybe you are 100 percent but your body hasn’t played in a year. The grind in this sport and the workout and everything he has to do, he’s sore and he’s stiff.
“Then he goes to the big leagues and plays several days in a row. We’re just trying to get him through the year … keep him on the field and get him through the year. That’s our goal, to keep him on the field and get him through the season.”
Obviously, that’s also Kalish’s goal. But he’s not going to lose any sleep worrying about the possibility of another injury. “The way I play the game is the way I play the game,” he said. “It’s never going to change. I definitely want to have a long career and I think it will happen especially if I can stay on the field. That’s the bottom line. But you never know what’s going to happen. Guys’ careers have been shortened by injuries. I hope that’s not me. If it is me because I play the game right, I don’t care. It is what it is.
“I’ve come to grips with that. I’ve had a lot of time to think. I bruised my knee and will be out for a few days because I ran into the wall for my team. I don’t care what people think. I know that I play the game hard and will continue to do that.”
Ironically, the time he’s spent with Boston helped Kalish perhaps even more mentally than it did physically. “When I come down here, I feel relaxed,” he said. “Up there, I felt a little stressed out. It’s natural. It’s part of learning. Everything is amplified. Things might feel a little worse than they do here. But once I calmed myself down and made it feel like a game again, things felt better.
“That was something I felt I really can learn from the next time I go up. You have to enjoy the game and play as freely as you can. Sometimes the whole atmosphere can get a grip on you.”