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Hometown's trying times bring Kalish perspective

BOSTON -- At the football field where Ryan Kalish dominated in high school, 40 yards of bleachers were thrown clear of the fence, over the track and on to the turf.

Kalish's best friend Mike Troy, a cross-country star at Red Bank Catholic in New Jersey who ran on that same track, lost the entirety of his first floor. To get around his kitchen now, Troy has to jump from beam to beam.

Troy just bought the house in August.

"It's funny, his perspective is so cool," Kalish said. "He had four or five feet of standing water come up into his kitchen into his living room. Just as far as all the appliances in the house -- gone. Needs a new kitchen, his floor is gone right now. And it's just been a lot of work. He was supposed to come up here [in November] to visit me but couldn't, because of all the stuff. And his perspective, and it's so true, he has it good, or better -- not good -- better than most, because all that he has is some damage."

Kalish's parents moved away from New Jersey and the shore area that was wrecked last month by Hurricane Sandy just a month before the storm. The 24-year-old Red Sox outfielder was training and rehabbing in Boston at the time it hit, so he couldn't see the destruction himself. All he could do was call and text and call.

"I just -- I almost felt kind of bad, because I had it so good during a hurricane," Kalish said. "I didn't lose power, I'm here [in Boston], I felt like. ... I didn't get to see it. But I could feel it. It was a lot of stress for a lot of people."

By the oceanside in Sea Bright, a town neighboring Kalish's hometown Shrewsbury, his favorite stomping grounds were all wiped out. The beach club he grew up with and many of the restaurants he went to just a couple months ago are demolished, or will be.

The restaurants that are still open along the shore have become de facto community centers.

"The week after, you go to a restaurant, nobody can obviously cook in their house, the restaurants are a place you'd see everyone," said Troy, who's 25. "It's like, 'How'd you make out?' It's like, 'Oh, we're knocking it down,' and it's not out of the ordinary. And it's, 'Oh, how'd you make out?' 'We had two feet of water, we gutted the whole first floor.'

"Any other time, that conversation would be kind of crazy to have."

At the start of December, Kalish was out at Fenway Park for a Christmas celebration. Troy, coincidentally, was finally able to make it to Boston that weekend. In a true December cold that might have felt warm to the displaced in Jersey, Kalish patiently talked with fans, took pictures and signed autographs.

Just a day earlier, Kalish was a part of the Red Sox's winter caravan around New England. First-hand, he brought hope to bed-ridden, hospitalized children.

"This whole week has really shown me a lot, even through Sandy and now, this whole holiday caravan we've done here," Kalish said. "It's been all about kids with sicknesses, all these good causes to be a part of. I just feel so appreciative of what I have now."

Kalish went out to lunch with Mike Trout this season. They're both Jersey boys, and they're both incredible athletes. But Kalish hasn't had a chance to show it yet. Two years of injuries have slowed him.

But between the hospital visits, between hearing so much about the devastation to his hometown, Kalish found one thought prevalent.

Very late the night before Christmas at Fenway, he took to Twitter.

"Appreciate," he wrote.

"That was last night, two o'clock in the morning," Kalish said the next day. "I have so much good -- I'm so appreciative of what I have so far as a baseball player. The way my career's gone, some would be very depressed about, especially lately. And I'm not. I don't even know -- you just never know what's going to happen. I could be a 10-year big leaguer or I could be a guy that was supposed to be and never was."

* * *
Buddy Hausmann, Kalish's high school baseball coach, drove 45 minutes after the storm to buy a generator and didn't see a single light anywhere. He sent his twin girls, just five months old, away to Pennsylvania with his in-laws to be safe. But his only real loss was power for a few days, a relative blessing.

"It was almost like end-of-the-world stuff," Hausmann said. "He was texting me, I was kind of letting him know what was going on. ... He wanted to make sure I was OK, my kids were OK."

Hausmann's close with Kalish, and as a friend and former coach, he worries sometimes. Is Ryan keeping his head up? Even before Sandy, he's always gotten the same answer.

"I talk to him a lot more, just to make sure he's OK," Hausmann said. "And he's always like, 'Dude, life is great.' I'm fine, I'm going to be OK. I'm just more trying to make sure mentally he's OK ... and he's more than OK. 'I'm good. Like, I'll be fine. I'll be out there. Don't worry.'"

Kalish hasn't been out there on the field nearly as much as he wants. He had a pair or surgeries in 2011, one on his neck in September, one on his left labrum -- his throwing shoulder -- in November.

In 2010, Kalish was named the Red Sox's Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America Boston chapter. He became just the third Major Leaguer to hit two grand slams within six weeks of his first big league game. At age 22, he was the youngest Red Sox outfielder since 1997.

There was a belief, heading into 2011, he could have a chance at a starting job. Then Boston signed outfielder Carl Crawford, who has since been traded to the Dodgers. Kalish instead went to Triple-A and hurt the shoulder in April on a diving catch.

Physically, Kalish is only now getting right. Living in Boston, he lifts about four days a week with Mike Boyle, a Red Sox strength consultant, and he takes two or three days of treatment. But he's prepared to enter the season at less than 100 percent if he has to.

"Much better, much stronger," Kalish said of his state now. "I felt so weak and just not strong overall. Playing a game kind of just took a lot out of me, and now I'm doing all these workouts. I'll go mess around outside -- I want to be active right now. And that's a different feeling than I have had over the last two years, where it's just, being active has just worn me out. And now I just wake up and I want to just do stuff."

Cody Ross has left for Arizona. Jonny Gomes is unlikely to play every day. If no other outfielder is brought in, there seems to be a window for Kalish in 2013. But he's been through that kind of prognosticating before.

"You never know, man," Kalish said. "In 2010, after that season, they went out and signed Carl. You just never know. I've said this before, I mean, Ben has known me since the day I came into this organization. Whatever he does, I totally back it up and I think that if I'm healthy, I can come and do a lot of things on the baseball field that'll help this team win. "

Manager John Farrell is from another neighboring shore town, Monmouth Beach. Farrell knows Kalish from his time in the organization before, and one of Kalish's basketball coaches growing up went to high school with Farrell. Kalish goes back, too, with assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez and bench coach Torey Lovullo.

Terry Francona loved Kalish, and Farrell's a Francona disciple.

"Now I'm starting to see how it works where you know somebody, and then all of a sudden, everyone's coming up together," Kalish said. "I was talking to Scotty [Podsednik] about just how many people he knows in baseball, and he's got 13 years more than I do. But it's already starting now for me."

* * *
In terms of baseball, it might really be just starting for Kalish. He's been touted for so long, but he's still so young.

Kalish's sense of community isn't some newfound benevolence, though. It's just been heightened.

"That's something he's always had," Troy said. "He knows how lucky he is to be where he is."

When Kalish would return home to New Jersey in years past, he helped out at a local school for kids with disabilities, he'd do clinics. He'd go back to Red Bank Catholic and just hang around.

"The biggest thing is, whenever I see him or when he comes back to school, especially when he sees the students, he screws around," Hausmann said. "We joke with him, we talk to him. The students see him and they're walking over and they can't speak."

Kids in Shrewsbury and Red Bank and Oceanport and Monmouth Beach know his name, and Kalish knows that's not something to take for granted. That's how a 24-year-old ballplayer grows up.

And he knows that his job problems pale in comparison to his neighbors'. That's how a 24-year-old of any profession grows up.

"Life is too short," Kalish said at Fenway, still going after about 20 minutes in the cold. "I'm feeling more and more comfortable around this whole scene. Talking to people, or doing all this fan stuff, it's almost kind of awkward at first when you first come up. And now it's like, you're really starting to understand that you can be somebody that everyone looks up to, or someone that people can appreciate. I'm not coming here with a frown, I'm happy to be here. You have to kind of embrace your role. And I can do stuff, like going to Dana Farber yesterday.

"If my career works out -- I hope it does -- but if it doesn't, I'm going to be a success in my life."

Boston Red Sox, Ryan Kalish