Commentary

Kalish makes trip home extra special

The outfielder hits his first MLB homer at his hometown Yankee Stadium

Updated: August 7, 2010, 7:41 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- A scuffed, pearly white baseball sat on the top shelf of Ryan Kalish's locker in the visitor's clubhouse at Yankee Stadium late Friday night.

Next to it was his cell phone. When the Boston Red Sox's left fielder flipped the phone open following Boston's 6-3 victory over the New York Yankees in the first of four games here this weekend, he had 57 text messages.

Kalish grew up just a hit-and-run away from the Bronx and graduated from Red Bank Catholic High School in New Jersey. So when his two-run homer sailed over the right-center field wall, it gave the Red Sox a much-needed three-run lead against the team he grew up watching.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kalish
AP Photo/Kathy WillensRyan Kalish has quickly gained respect in the Red Sox clubhouse since being called up on July 31.

"It's real exciting, but more exciting is the win," Kalish said. "With the Yankees' offense, one run is tough. They can get a ball anytime -- even three runs isn't breathing room. But it was definitely awesome to be a part of that win."

The left fielder had struck out in his first two at-bats and prior to his third plate appearance in the top of the sixth, Kalish had a talk with Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. In the past, Kalish has been the type of hitter who loses his focus at the plate after a couple of strikeouts, but Magadan told him to be aggressive. If he got a pitch early in the count that he liked, "Go for it."

The pitch from Yankees starter Javier Vazquez was a two-seamer down in the zone, right where Kalish likes it, and he went down and got it.

"It's wild," he said. "When I hit it and knew it had a chance, and then when I knew it got out, I remember saying to myself, 'Is this real?' Just for a second it felt unreal."

When the Red Sox decided to call up Kalish from the minors at the trade deadline, they were looking for a youthful spark to help this snake-bitten and injury-riddled ballclub. He's been humble and has been a professional rookie in every sense of the word.

"When you bring kids up who know how to play, and know how to act, it's great," manager Terry Francona said. "The veterans love him. He brings that enthusiasm that comes with youth, but he also has the maturity to know how important these games are and that we need to win. That's a good combination."

David Ortiz is one of those veteran players in the Red Sox clubhouse who has been impressed with Kalish's contributions.

"He's got a lot of talent," said Ortiz, who slugged his 24th home run of the season in the top of the first inning. "He looks like a little Papi."

"That was a great swing," Francona added. "He's a strong kid, and that goes without saying. That was huge. To tack on, especially when you're playing a team like this, as dangerous as they can be, it was important."

When the ball left Kalish's bat, both his parents came out of their seats, thinking -- hoping -- the ball would travel over the right-center field wall and land in the Yankees' bullpen.

That's exactly where it nestled.

"Unbelievable," said his father, Steve Kalish. "To see him hit it here makes it extra special."

"I'm overwhelmed," said his mother, Eileen Kalish.

Even though Ryan grew up an hour from Yankee Stadium, his family has deep roots in Boston.

His dad grew up in Brookline, Mass. His mother is from Dorchester. Kalish was born in California, but the family moved to New Jersey when he was 2.

Kalish is a self-described front-runner and said, as a kid, he liked whichever team won.

"The Yankees won," he said. "All my friends are huge Yankee fans, so I jumped on that bandwagon."

Suddenly all his friends are Red Sox fans.

Not only has it been an emotional week for the 22-year-old outfielder since he made his major league debut on Saturday at Fenway Park, but his parents can't believe what it's been like for his family.

"It's been crazy. Totally out of the blue," Steve said.

At the July 31 trade deadline, Steve received a phone call from his son at 2:30 in the afternoon. Steve saw Ryan's number pop up and thought something was wrong.

"I thought he was getting traded," Steve admitted.

Ryan told his dad he was on his way to Fenway Park.

"For what?" Steve asked. "He said, 'If I can get there by 4 o'clock, I'm playing.' Being from there, growing up, and Eileen's family is still heavily located there, and having him start off at Fenway, and now coming here and [him] being able to make a contribution has been extra special."

Eileen concurred.

"For him to hit his home run here & pinch me," she said with a large smile, eye lashes fluttering.

It wasn't only Ryan's mom, dad and brother Jake, who were in attendance Friday night. There were more than 100 people from his hometown to witness the special night.

While the Kalish's gang sat in the visitor's family lounge, Ryan was on his way to present his father with the scuffed, pearly white baseball.

"I didn't know if I was going to get it. I figured maybe they would've just thrown it up in the stands, not knowing the situation," Kalish explained. "I got it and it's really, really cool. Obviously, you get [the ball] from your first hit, but a home run, you never know if you'll get that one."

He got it.

"I'm going to give it to my dad," Kalish said. "This is just really, really special."

It's a safe bet Steve Kalish will find a spot on his shelf for it.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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