For Ryan Kalish, embarking on the comeback trail has featured an eerily similar narrative.
There’s the surgery aspect, which Kalish has down pat by now. Since diving for a ball in center field at McCoy Stadium on April 21, 2011 – a play the 25-year-old dubs “a stroke of bad luck” – the onetime Red Sox outfield prospect has been subjected to one corrective procedure after another. Yearning to feel like his old self has proven a tough road to hoe, his left shoulder and neck never quite getting back in sync.
“Obviously the other procedures I had maybe would have taken care of this on its own, but it just didn’t happen that way,” relayed Kalish in a phone interview Friday. “Whether I was doing baseball activities or not, I would have neck tingling and burning.”
The only perceivable answer was to have more surgery and cling to the belief that the worst would at long last be over – that Kalish could stop inhaling the anguish and resume his baseball career that’s seemingly been on hold for the past 2 1/2 years.
For someone who this past Wednesday went under the knife for the fourth time in the past 23 months, Kalish is optimistic that the cervical fusion surgery that was performed on his neck may just hold the key to unlocking the roadblocks that have crept up with great frequency.
“I really believe this is the end and will be super thankful for my health when it comes,” said Kalish from his room at Marina Del Rey Hospital, located in Los Angeles County.
Added Buddy Hausmann, who coached Kalish at New Jersey’s Red Bank Catholic High School, “Ryan said that everything went well. (Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed the surgery Wednesday) was happy. Now is the start to getting right for spring training.”
It’s appropriate that Hausmann referenced spring training because that’s when Kalish has targeting his return into Boston’s fold. Kalish has been informed that rehabbing his neck would encompass 3-6 months, which would put him on track to be ready when camp convenes in Fort Myers, Fla. come mid-February.
“I feel real confident that I can be ready to go for that,” stated an optimistic Kalish, who for the next six weeks will remain in Los Angeles before getting re-evaluated by Dr. Watkins. “Six months from now is spring training, so I am actually putting a goal on it. I want to be ready for next year. If it’s a couple of weeks later, that’s fine, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and think I’m going to be ready.”
How Kalish ended up with a fourth surgery is part misfortune, part puzzling. The Garden State native attempted to come back in 2011, but was shut down following a 13-game stint. Eventually, the belief that rest would trump the alternative gave way to a pair of surgeries that were conducted within a two months of one another.
In Sept. 2011, Kalish had surgery to repair a bulging disk in his neck, performed by Dr. Joseph Maroon in Pittsburgh. He then went out to San Francisco to rehab. The process stalled when it was deemed he would need to repair the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
Dr. Lewis Yocum, who passed away earlier this year, operated on Kalish’s left shoulder in Nov. 2011 in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, Kalish would have to wait before making his 2012 season debut. He began the year on the 60-day disabled list and after three rehab stints at three minor-league levels, he returned to the majors in mid June.
All told, Kalish appeared in 69 games last season. Still, the pain in his neck continued gnawing away, both from a physical and mental standpoint. That led to the third-of-four surgeries in Jan. 2013 with Yocum this time targeting the torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Remaining in Fort Myers after the major-league team departed, Kalish continued to round into playing shape with the hopes of being back come mid-season. As he noted, “nothing was getting better. I knew where it was going to go if I got back into games and got back out. I was close to getting into a game, but I was just like, ‘I don’t want to deal with this anymore,’ especially if I want to play for a long time.
“It’s interesting how that dive (in April 2011) threw off my mechanics, but that’s part of the game,” added Kalish, who has reached a point where he’s comfortable with watching replays of that fateful play on the McCoy Stadium surface.
Coming to grips about yet another surgery, Kalish flew to Boston to consult with Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington. Knowing that his 2013 season was a complete wash, the object was make all involved parties understand that the more information gathered, the better the chance that Kalish’s drawn-out travails would be rectified once and for all.
“Between myself and the organization, we wanted to get this out of the way now,” said Kalish, who made his major-league debut in 2010. “I actually saw Dr. Watkins a couple of years ago regarding all my neck issues before my first procedure. He recommended (the surgery Kalish had Wednesday) back then.”
Despite being constantly bombarded with setbacks, Kalish never once contemplated calling it a career. In fact, his resolve remains as strong as ever.
“It (stinks) that I’m in this position, but nothing is supposed to come easy,” Kalish said. “I’m going to work hard and do what I can to get back on the field. I’m excited.”
Stated Hausmann, “He knows that can be out there and that he should be out there. In his current form, he couldn’t be out there. Never once, though, did he say that he should try something else.
“In the scheme of it, he’s 25. Is the window getting shorter? Yeah, but is it closed? Absolutely not,” Hausmann continued. “Was Fort Myers becoming old and did he start to break down a little bit over this whole thing more this past offseason than he did in the past? Yeah, but I don’t blame him. It’s been a long three years.”
Gary DiSarcina managed Kalish in 2007 in Single-A Lowell. The current Pawtucket manager didn’t mince words when asked about Kalish’s absence.
“We know how talented he is and we miss him,” DiSarcina said. “For Ryan, it probably seems that he hasn’t played the game in 10 years and he’s been isolated on an island the whole time. Personally, I miss seeing him play.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03