Editor’s note: Each day this week, NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will profile Ryan Kalish’s rise to the big leagues. On Monday, his graduation day gift from the Sox was spotlighted.
One would need to look long and hard to find an issue with the way Ryan Kalish played for the Red Sox in 2010. From his jaw-dropping defensive work in the outfield to his dramatic power to the fact that he led the team in stolen bases despite playing just 53 games, it’s evident he has many ways to hurt you.
You might say he’s a natural fit on the diamond. There was a time, however, when he was also a natural on the gridiron, and had he made a decision to pursue a career in that arena we might not be talking about him in discussions of the Red Sox future.
Kalish had multiple Division I schools looking at him as an option to play quarterback and/or safety. Several stayed away due to his supposed desire to pursue baseball, but the University of Virginia, which had offered him a baseball scholarship, had Kalish lined up as a two-sport star. He signed a letter of intent and there was the very real possibility he would play both sports as a Cavalier. After that, it’s not a given that baseball would win out in the end. Although football was the newer of the two sports for Kalish, who didn’t put on the pads until high school, the sky was the limit.
“This was a kid who had a very high ceiling in the sport, simply because he was so athletic,” said Frank Edgerly, Kalish’s football coach at Red Bank Catholic High School and now a scout with the New England Patriots. “His leadership skills were so natural. People wanted to play for him. People around him he took pride in making better, which was very rare at that age, especially a kid that came in that gifted and that accomplished in baseball. Those kids tend to come in…think that certain things don’t apply to them.
This was a kid that from the time he walked in was a humble kid who prided himself on what he did and people wanted to play for him.”
As a junior, Kalish played wide receiver and safety, blocked from the backfield by a pair of senior standouts, including running back Donald Brown, currently a member of the Indianapolis Colts. He was handed the keys to the offense as a senior, and instantly served as more than just a good quarterback.
“The kid had such energy,” Edgerly recalls. “Once the whistle blows this kid just had a juice and an energy to him that was contagious.”
Those intangibles and the athleticism were there from the time Kalish walked onto the field as a 150-pound freshman. But he needed to learn the sport, gain an understanding of the footwork and strategy involved. Once he had that, the package was nearly complete, and Kalish could pull off the kinds of plays they are still buzzing about in Red Bank. For Edgerly, there’s one that comes to mind in an instant.
The RBC Caseys were coming off a heartbreaking loss on a late fumble to area standout Raritan High School, falling for the first time in four games in Kalish’s senior season. The following weekend they were locked in another tight battle with Manasquan, also a local power. Another close loss would’ve been a difficult blow to RBC, and the intense rainstorm that enveloped the meeting with Manasquan simply added to the gloomy vibe.
Locked in a 7-7 game on a muddy, wet field, Kalish emerged in time to make that play that brings a smile to Edgerly’s face. On a play-action in which his primary receivers were covered and defenders were hanging all over Kalish, he somehow escaped, scrambled and found a teammate streaking toward the end zone. Slicing through the rain and the slop and all the heavy emotions of the loss a week earlier went a 42-yard bomb that hit his man in stride. The receiver was tackled a few yards from paydirt, but RBC punched in the decisive score moments later. The final was 20-7 and it was the first of four straight wins for the Caseys.
That Kalish pulled off a remarkably athletic play was not entirely a shock. He had a cannon of an arm and all the other physical attributes. To do so at that moment was what caused people like Edgerly to know that there was something unique in the signal-caller for RBC.
“The reason it was such a special play was, you’re talking lousy weather, and it was in such a big spot, mid-fourth quarter, tie game,” the coach said. “It was a big moment and for a lot of kids it would’ve been too big.”
Coach and player stay in touch. In their talks, Kalish often wonders what might’ve been if he continued playing football. Although baseball was his first love, football was gaining fast.
“Football is such a big rush when you play,” Kalish said not long after turning his back on the sport and signing with the Red Sox. “You’re out there having so much fun and you’re getting so close to your teammates. It’s a totally different game than baseball. A lot more goes into playing football.”
Edgerly is pleased as punch with what Kalish has been able to accomplish as a baseball player and is confident that the young outfielder’s character will pull him through whatever obstacles he has along the way. He, too, sometimes wonders where things could’ve gone if Kalish chose another route.
Chances are, Edgerly said, it would still be positive.
“They realized this kid was going to go the baseball route,” he said of the college recruiters. “There was talk of him being drafted relatively high [in baseball], so those people backed off of him. But you pop in the tape and you saw the raw athleticism and you saw the arm strength, and you saw fundamentally that this kid was in good shape and was only going to get better…Did he have upside and a high ceiling as a football player? Absolutely.”
Check back Wednesday for a look at the early portions of Kalish’s minor league career.