MESA, Ariz. — Ryan Kalish rehabbed in Venice, Calif., while the Boston Red Sox partied last October.
Kalish lived by the beach as he recovered from the cervical fusion surgery performed by the same doctor who did the neck procedure for Peyton Manning. He could walk to the Pacific Ocean. That laid-back setting, some 3,000 miles from the Green Monster, mirrored his sense of calm.
Kalish is not consumed by what could have been: celebrating a worst-to-first turnaround and another World Series title at Fenway Park.
“I watched every game,” Kalish said Friday at Cubs Park. “It was awesome because I know so many of those guys so well. Obviously, deep down, you’re like: ‘This stinks. I want to be in this thing.’ But at the end of the day, you’re just so happy for those guys.
“They all deserve it. They’ve all been through a lot. You go back to the chicken-and-beer stuff, (and) people were taking heat that was (just) undeserved. Two years later, they’re at the top of the world.”
Kalish is hoping for another comeback story. Future Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod chose Kalish in the ninth round of the 2006 draft, convincing him to take an above-slot $600,000 signing bonus and turn down the scholarship offer to play two sports at the University of Virginia.
Kalish had been a star quarterback at Red Bank Catholic High School in New Jersey. He’s still built like that strong safety with a 6-foot-0, 213-pound frame. He grew into Boston’s minor league player of the year in 2009. He became an energy guy for the 2010 Red Sox, hitting .252 with four homers, 24 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 53 games.
But the Carl Crawford megadeal blocked Kalish, and the downward spiral began when the outfielder dove for a ball at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2011. Shoulder surgeries wiped out most of the next three seasons. He got squeezed when the Red Sox needed a spot on their 40-man roster this winter.
“What I’ve learned in these last three years as a human being, not just a baseball player,” Kalish said, searching for the right words, “I wouldn’t even take it back now. That’s just not the way to look at life.
“Obviously, if I could go back, I would have loved to have just broken in and stayed up there. (But) there’s no point in saying: ‘What if this? What if that? What if I didn’t dive for that ball?’ If I didn’t play the way I played, I wouldn’t have had all the opportunities.”
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Kalish will be 26 years old on Opening Day. He stood at his locker dressed in Cubbie blue and shook his head.
“It’s just like flown by,” Kalish said. “Looking back now, I always appreciated everything. But now it’s just like seeing different. I don’t have a negative ounce of energy towards baseball. Where you used to get caught up in Triple-A travel or whatever, I don’t even care anymore.
“I’m never going to be happy to go 0-for-4. But at least I have the opportunity to do that. Little things (like that). I’m in a state of mind to give myself the best opportunity to make this comeback happen.”
Kalish has a strong bond with this front office, but by now he completely understands this is a business. He signed a minor-league deal with a team that needs a fifth outfielder — and maybe another been-there-before influence in the clubhouse.
While the Cubs sell farm-system rankings to their fans, here’s someone who has already lived through the hype.
“(People) want to win so bad,” Kalish said. “It’s been a really long time, so these guys are going through a lot. It’s a challenging time. Can you keep your head together? Can you live up to the expectations when you’re struggling? Can you not let the expectations take over?
“There’s a lot of challenges for these guys. And any way I can help them, I’d love to.”