Ryan Kalish is 22, so high school isn't really that far back. In a way, that's how the young Red Sox outfielder would like it to stay. At least that's the impression he gives to those who helped get him to the precipice of stardom.
"When I've had conversations with him, he's said, 'Listen, I give you full permission to tell me if I ever change the slightest bit,'" said Buddy Hausmann, the current head baseball coach and former assistant at Red Bank Catholic High School in New Jersey, where Kalish was a three-sport star.
Hausmann is in almost-constant contact with Kalish. He's still "just Ryan," to the coach, so there are no issues with Boston's top prospect getting ahead of himself. If he did, Hausmann and others can remind Kalish that nothing is guaranteed.
When Kalish was a senior, he was projected as a second-rounder in the 2006 amateur player draft. However, a sore shoulder hampered that critical campaign. Kalish was unable to pitch and played several games as Red Bank's designated hitter to avoid playing the field. That, and the potential that he might want to go to college, caused his stock to drop a bit and the Red Sox took him in the ninth round.
Even in a limited capacity, though, Kalish was able to impress. Jason McLeod, then the director of amateur scouting, once said that Kalish didn't swing and miss at a pitch all season. He hit .422 with a home run, 15 RBIs and 37 stolen bases.
In fact, he was still so good, even while injured, that when asked what stood out about his star player, Hausmann can only remember the bad times, simply because they were so rare.
"I remember the only time he got thrown out in his entire career [trying to steal]. That one time," Hausmann said. "Those are the things you remember, because it didn't happen too often."
Because he had second-round capabilities, Kalish would command a signing bonus commensurate with that level, despite the injury. For that reason, he was pretty confident that the Red Sox, with whom his agent had been in contact, would take him late but pay him that bonus. So, when the call came to Kalish's cell phone with word that Boston took him 283rd overall, it didn't matter that his high school graduation ceremony was literally under way.
"I got a phone call from Jason MacLeod as I was heading into my graduation," Kalish once said about the moment. "The school knew what was going on and had given me permission to have my cell phone because of it. The ceremony started and I answered the phone."
And there, surrounded by Yankees fans, Kalish took off his graduation cap and donned a blue one with a red "B" on it, making a seamless and almost instantaneous transition into the work force. While others were just moving their tassel from one side of the cap to the other, Kalish had his career path just about set in stone.
Of course, he had other opportunities. The University of Virginia had offered Kalish a baseball scholarship and was prepared to give him the chance to play football as well. He had a decision to make. Despite being a multi-talented threat on the gridiron (he excelled as a quarterback with his arm and legs, played defensive back and also punted) and admitting that there were times when he liked football more than baseball, he had to say no to UVA, for whom he had signed a letter of intent, and focus on the Red Sox.
Maybe something in Kalish told him which path to take. Perhaps it was the money, a $700,000 signing bonus. Or maybe, as someone whose work ethic and determination have been praised at every stop, he knew that committing to one thing could turn into something special.
To hear him now, after having that taste of the major leagues but knowing he still may have to endure a year in the minors, it's apparent his love of baseball has only grown.
"I talked to him about a week after [Carl] Crawford signed," Hausmann said. "He’s like, 'Listen, I don't care. I know I gotta do what I gotta do and I'm playing baseball. I will be there, and if I'm not, then I don’t deserve to be. But if I keep doing what I can do, that’s all I can do.'"
Sounds like a guy who is true to his roots.
Check back Tuesday for the next chapter of Kalish's baseball career.