Things are looking up for Kevin Cash in his first year as Rays manager. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

How Kevin Cash went from Red Sox backup catcher to manager of Rays

Rob Bradford
April 21, 2015 - 8:40 am

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- One year ago, Kevin Cash was beginning his second season as Indians bullpen coach. That came after two years as an advance scout for the Blue Jays. And just before that -- five years ago -- he found himself retiring from big league baseball at the age of 32 after appearing in 29 games as Red Sox backup catcher. Now, Cash finds himself as the manager of the team the Red Sox are opposing for the next three nights -- the Tampa Bay Rays. "Not at all," said Cash by phone when asked if he could have imagined at this time last year he'd be in his current position. "It's very weird. Not in the slightest." What transpired over the course of just a few months turned Cash's world upside down without warning. First came an interview with the Rangers for their managerial opening. Then Texas offered him its bench coach job (which he declined). Then came another call, this one from the Rays for another interview to manage. All the while, there remained the distinct possibility he could find his way back to the Red Sox as bench coach if Torey Lovullo was hired to manage in Minnesota. All of it came with very little warning, happening in seemingly a blink of an eye. "[Ron Washington] stepped down and Texas gave the Indians the head's up that they would be calling when the season ended. I don't want to say I had doubts, but it wasn't certainly like I was gung-ho that I could do this because I wasn't even remotely thinking about it," Cash said. "Obviously Tito [Cleveland manager Terry Francona] allowed me to do a lot of things that a typical bullpen coach doesn't do, so that helped. But I know I wasn't sitting there thinking I could be a big league manager, by any means." A couple of interviews are one thing, but actually getting the job is another. Yet that's exactly what the Tampa native did, with a little help from his former employers. "The way [the Indians] prepped me was basically unheard of," Cash said. "I went in and did a mock interview. I got dressed up. They told me to put a suit and tie on and made me as uncomfortable as possible and asked me some very difficult questions. "It without a doubt helped. It was very, very nerve-wracking because they asked some very direct and pointed questions about the Indians team. Why did you do this? Why did you say this to this player? Why weren't you able to connect to this player? It put me on the spot. The way they prepped me, it wasn't going to get much more intense." What also helped Cash land the job was the diverse background he had ventured through in a relatively short amount of time. Each experience, he explained, meant something to seeing what it might take to become a big league manager. PLAYING: "Getting to play, I was extremely fortunate to play on some good teams. Even though I wasn't good, I got to play around some really good players and watch how really good players went about their business and daily routines. David Ortiz, the pitchers, Manny [Ramirez], everybody. It seemed like we had an All-Star team at every position for two years, and to watch them, hang out with them and see what they go through on a daily basis was key. I already have a perspective on my own of what it's like to be the 24th roster player and how difficult that can be to appreciate that guy." SCOUTING: "The best thing about being an advance scout was getting to sit in the stands with the other major league scouts and pro scouts and hear their perspective. You get away from the field and hear a different view of it. How they watch player, what they're looking for. You separate yourself from the game. You're very much in tune with the game, but there are a lot of very good scouts in this game who provide a lot of knowledge." COACHING: "The bullpen coach thing, obviously that was extremely beneficial in terms of being on the coaching staff. You're not by any stretch the manager, but you're managing during that three-hour time that seven- or eight-pitcher group. You're the manager down there. It's a third of the team, but for three hours every night, that's where we're at. They're not looking at the pitching coach or the manager when they're warming up, so you have to have something for them." Now that he's in the seat, he has a new appreciation for pieces of the job that might go unrecognized by most, and he doesn't hesitate when asked about the trickiest aspects of the job. "Running the bullpen," Cash said. "You know that's tough. A lot of people tell you that it's the toughest thing. But maybe you don't have the appreciation for how difficult it can be at times when stuff speeds up and you're trying to figure out who the opposing team might pull off the bench to pinch hit and things like that. "Then the media component, not that it's tough, because the media has been great, but it's a lot. There's a lot of talking. (As a player,) it was basically once every five days. 'Is Wake's ball knuckling or not?' Yes or no, and then see you. I certainly didn't have to talk about any offensive production." But at the end of the day, even after the six-months whirlwind, Cash seems comfortable in his new surroundings. Despite coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees, his team is in the thick of things with a 6-7 record. While offensively challenged, the Rays have gotten solid starting pitching (even with the likes of Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore on the shelf), while playing outstanding defense. (Tampa Bay has made just 3 errors.) "I like our team," Cash said. It's his team. Six months ago, who would have thought it?