Kalish thinks he could be better than ever

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Ryan Kalish knows he may never be the same player who made an immediate impact for the Boston Red Sox during the 2010 season, but now that he’s a step closer to returning to the big leagues, the 24-year-old outfielder believes he could be even better.

It’s been a long and arduous rehab process for Kalish after undergoing both shoulder and neck surgery last September. When he arrived at spring training in February, he slowly began baseball activities and when camp broke, he remained in Fort Myers, Fla.

Finally, on May 26, he was activated from the disabled list and played three games at Single-A Salem where he went 4-for-12 with one home run and one RBI. He was transferred to Double-A Portland on May 31 and played three games for the Sea Dogs, going 2-for-9.

Kalish made his debut at Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday and went 2-for-2 with a home run, three RBIs, three walks, three runs scored and a stolen base.

“It’s just awesome to be here with my friends and playing the game again at a good level,” Kalish said. “I’m trying to get comfortable and get it back. Well, I can’t say ‘get it back’ because what I had is gone. Now it’s a new time and I’m here and need to have fun, really. I’m just trying to keep it real simple.”

The Red Sox selected Kalish in the ninth round of the 2006 draft and he quickly climbed the organizational ladder, making his major league debut with Boston in 2010.

He hit .252 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 53 games for the Red Sox that season and proved he could produce at that level. He was on the fast track to becoming an everyday player in the big leagues.

Then came the disappointing 2011 season.

Kalish was limited to 24 games due to injuries that eventually required season-ending surgeries in September. He hopes all that adversity is behind him and there are only good things to come.

“Where I was as a player, if you focus on trying to become the same guy, you could lose what you could be. Shoot, you never know,” he said. “I was thinking because I had such a long time to think that it got to a point I was always thinking about whether I would be the same player.

“Now I’m realizing I’m not the same person I was in 2010. I’m always wondering if I could be up to the same par, but really, if I keep an open mind and play the game hard, there’s potential I could be better. But I think if you’re striving toward that goal, it could almost get in the way of where you want to be. I’m really not thinking about anything I’ve done in the past. I’m just trying to get comfortable here and play. That’s it.”

Kalish described his rehab process to return to this level as long.

“The first six years of my career felt like a breeze and the last year felt like my whole life, like eternity,” he said. “It was a tough process because there were no certain injuries and we were always searching for what was going on. I was going all over the country, talking with different doctors and getting different opinions. When it’s clear-cut it’s easier to deal with, but it was just stressful. Going that entire year, thinking I wouldn’t need surgery and then all of a sudden I needed two surgeries.

“The first few days I threw a ball after my surgery it was so painful, but that’s part of the process. It’s just so crazy to look back and think about all the people who have helped me and I’m grateful for that because there was a lot of work to be done, not just on my body, but on my mind.”

Physically he’s in a good place. Emotionally he’s content. Mentally he’s prepared for his next opportunity.

“Obviously it’s right here now. I’m in Triple-A, obviously you can go down, but I hope not. There’s only one more level to go and that’s to the big leagues," he said. "I feel like if you start to reach out for that goal and try to grab it and start to think about, ‘Oh, if I do good tonight I’ll get called up tomorrow’ and that turns into a mental block. I’m here and I’m going to work on my game, get quality at-bats and that’s really it.”

Kalish may describe himself as a different player now than he was a few years ago, but his goal is still the same. The hard-nosed, relentless style of play that helped him reach the big leagues in 2010 won’t change either, despite his injuries.

“Now I feel like, especially right now because I’m still dealing with some aches here or there and that’s part of baseball, but I’m only seven months out of a surgery that for some guys it could take up to two years to feel good, so I know right now it’s probably best to pick and choose my spots a little better," Kalish said. "Obviously, if there’s a wood wall or a metal wall, I don’t know if I’ll jump into it, but here there are pads so if I get a ball maybe I’ll go for it.

"You just need to be smart and you’re not invincible. Sometimes I felt like that a couple of years ago when I could dive on a warning track and not get hurt, but obviously it caught up with me.”