Kevin Cash is certainly not the first name that pops into your mind when you think of the Red Sox, but the catcher has been with the team all season and is on the postseason roster for the second straight year. He and the Red Sox are facing the team from his hometown of Tampa, the very same club that released him in December 2006.
They were the Devil Rays then, and they were still two years away from packed houses and cowbell-ringing fans. I spoke with Cash about his old team, his place on his current team, and the Zen of catching a knuckleball.
TC: Two years ago, could you have possibly imagined being here today?
Cash: A couple years ago, I was with the Devil Rays, in Triple-A Durham, probably the most miserable year of my career. So, no, I couldn't have envisioned two, three years past that, being a part of a World Series last year and having the chance to do it again this year.
TC: Last year, a lot of people were surprised when you were on the playoff roster. A year ago, were you not counting your chickens before they hatched?
Cash: People talk a lot about Tim Wakefield's mastery of the knuckleball, but they don't talk much about the mastery of receiving the knuckleball.
TC: Is it an art unto itself?
Cash: I don't know if it's an art, but you've got to be relaxed. I've said that since the first time I caught him. Now I feel very relaxed when I am out there with him. Catchers want to be perfectionists back there; they want to make every pitch look good. If you take that approach with the knuckleball, you're going to fail. If you can realize that you're going to miss some balls, and can shrug it off to get ready for the next pitch, you're going to have some success.
TC: Missing those balls is going to be magnified in a playoff game.
Cash: Without a doubt. I didn't get the opportunity to catch him last year or in the first round this year. If you miss a ball and the runner advances, it's going to be a little more tense in a playoff game than it would be in the 55th game of the regular season.
TC: On nights when the knuckleball is really dancing, when there's a lot of movement on it, are you tossing and turning late at night? Do you see those knuckleballs coming at you in your sleep?
Cash: No. After the game, if it's really dancing, I'll sit back and review some pitches and how they went, why I missed them, why I reached up here [motions to his upper left] when I should've grabbed it down there [motions to his lower right]. But, no, I've gotten used to it, and I now know that the biggest thing is being able to accept that you're going to miss some balls. You don't want to miss the ones you know you should catch, but at the same time you're going to miss some.
TC: Two years ago, could you have imagined the Rays playing in the ALCS?
Cash: No, definitely not. I think that's a credit to them. I'm definitely not a big supporter of the Devil Rays, but I do respect what [manager] Joe Maddon and that front office has done with those players. I think the talent was always there in the minor leagues. It just never translated to the big leagues. Now Joe comes in, [executive vice president of baseball operations] Andrew Friedman comes in, and they've made a lot of good moves. I think everybody in this clubhouse respects them and they definitely belong where they're at.
TC: As an alumnus, are you grandfathered to be able to call them the Devil Rays?
Cash: Yeah. As far as I'm concerned, they're still the Devil Rays.
TC: They're actually getting big crowds down there.
Cash: Yeah, they are. I remember playing down there with them and when Boston or New York came to town, it was [like] a home game for them. I think even early this year when we went in there, it was a home game for us. Then they swept us and you started to see a turn there. Now, we have some Red Sox fans over near the bullpen, but they're outnumbered. There is a lot of blue in the stands. Good for them, good for the city of Tampa. I'm from Tampa, but enough's enough [laughs].
TC: When you go back to Tampa this offseason, are you worried about being known as a Rays killer?
Cash: That would be a great honor. I hope I am.
TC: My 8-year-old son wants to be a catcher. Any advice?
Cash: [laughs] Learn how to take ground balls and play shortstop.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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