ST. PETERSBURG -- Kevin Cash is going home. And he's doing so as the new manager of the Rays.
Friday afternoon, the Rays named the former catcher as the fifth manager in team history. He will succeed Joe Maddon, who ended his nine-year tenure with the team by exercising an opt-out clause in his contract before agreeing to a five-year, $25 million deal to manage the Cubs.
When Cash learned he had the job, he described the scene as "surreal" and "tears all around."
"I don't know if you can put words on [returning to my hometown]," said Cash during a Friday afternoon conference call. "There's a lot of excitement knowing we'd be coming home. My family's there -- my brother, grandfather, nieces, nephews, it's just incredible. And then to be able to reconnect with some friendships and then develop the new relationships, I'm really looking forward to it."
Video: Kevin Cash discusses new role as Rays manager
Cash and his wife, Emily, have three children.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg noted that Cash's energy and dynamic personality will fit seamlessly into the clubhouse.
"We are fortunate to have such a talented individual, and Tampa Bay native, to lead our club as we strive to achieve new heights as a team and organization," Sternberg said.
Cash, 36, attended Tampa's Gaither High School and Florida State, where he played infield when the Seminoles reached the 1999 College World Series. He becomes the youngest Major League manager since A.J. Hinch, who became the D-backs' manager at age 35 in 2009.
Cash spent eight seasons as a player in the Major Leagues, primarily as a catcher, with the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Red Sox, Yankees and Astros. Known for his defensive skills, Cash last played in the Major Leagues during the 2010 season. He retired after spending the 2011 season with Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers' organization. He earned two World Series rings, with the 2007 Red Sox and the 2009 Yankees.
Cash worked as an advance scout for the Blue Jays in 2012, and in '13 he joined the Indians coaching staff, working as the team's bullpen coach.
"Kevin is passionate, genuine and dedicated, and those attributes will resonate throughout our clubhouse," said Matt Silverman, president, baseball operations. "As a catcher, a scout and a coach, he has always been a student of the game, and his communication and tireless work will put our club in a position to win, night in and night out."
Indians general Chris Antonetti praised Cash, noting what a "huge" impact he made with the Indians and complimenting the Rays for making "a great choice."
"He'll thrive in that role and be a very successful manager," Antonetti said. "Kevin does an extraordinary job of connecting with people and working to figure out the best way to help them and put them in position to be successful. That's a great attribute of a leader."
During his time with the Indians, Cash worked with Yan Gomes, and he is credited for helping Gomes improve his catching skills. He also received praise for helping Indians pitching coach -- and former Tampa Bay pitcher -- Mickey Callaway in his efforts with right-hander Carlos Carrasco. Cash does not have any managing experience, but he did learn under sip from the fountain of knowledge under Indians manager Terry "Tito" Francona.
"I could talk all day about Tito and his philosophy and what I'm going to pull from him and stuff like that," Cash said. "The biggest thing that I watched was the way that he communicates with players. … I see how he treats people.
"How he treats his coaching staff, the personnel that's in and out on a daily basis. And the quality relationships that he has formed with the Red Sox and his current team the Indians. And that's something I pay attention to on a daily basis."
Though Cash has not managed before, he simulated being a manager on many occasions from the Indians' bullpen.
"You're out of the dugout, but you kind of play manager in your head and you kind of try and get a sense of what managers throughout the game are doing in different situations," Cash said. "So I think as long as you are constantly paying attention and trying to learn from different things that happen throughout the course of the game and different decisions that are made, it's as close to managing a game as I've gotten to.
"And then the constant communication before and after the game with the coaching staff, explaining thoughts and decisions and trying to anticipate. A lot of that takes place, and I look forward to a lot more of that taking place with the coaching staff that's intact here."
Also in Cash's favor is the fact he was a catcher, which has always been a common denominator for many managers. Cash offered his thoughts on why backstops dominate the managing landscape.
"The only aspect I can draw from that is that's one position where you're sitting looking out at the field," Cash said. "Everyone else is looking in at the batter. It's a different perspective in the game. And there's a lot of game planning that goes on.
"So many position players and pitchers, they are trying to help the team, but they are also focusing on what they're doing. Whereas I think the catcher's responsibility is doing the best that he can do for the team, but also concerning himself about that pitcher on the mound. Those two things probably help the catcher along in this process."
The Rays identified 10 candidates for their vacant managerial post: Dave Martinez, Charlie Montoyo, Manny Acta, Ron Wotus, Don Wakamatsu, Raul Ibanez, Craig Counsell, Barry Larkin, Doug Glanville and Cash.
On Nov. 21, the Rays narrowed down the field by seven candidates to three: Cash, Ibanez and Wakamatsu. Ibanez dropped out on Thursday due to family issues, leaving the Rays to make their final call between Cash and Wakamatsu.
Silverman characterized the final decision as "extremely difficult."
"I didn't know Don at all before this process and have developed tremendous respect for him, not only as a baseball person, but as an individual," Silverman said. "He's a quality person with a great baseball mind and I fully expect he's going to have the opportunity to manage again soon. And if anyone calls and asks us about him, they're only going to hear positive, glowing remarks about him."
Cash becomes the first former Rays player to be named Rays manager and joins former White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen as the only former Rays to manage at the Major League level.
He also becomes the sixth Tampa-born manager in Major League history, and the second for the Rays, joining Lou Piniella (whom Cash played for in 2005), Hall of Famers Al Lopez and Tony La Russa, Dave Miley and John Hart.
Cash said that he's already talked to several Rays players and noted that he has been impressed with their energy level and enthusiasm.
"I'm really excited about the new direction," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "Kevin brings experience as a player at the Major League level, which excites me. Along with a fresh attitude that I feel will translate into making our already great clubhouse even better."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.