Hal Bodley

Cash hopes to be new voice Rays need in clubhouse

Cash hopes to be new voice Rays need in clubhouse

Kevin Cash's first at-bat for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2005 was memorable. He homered off Milwaukee right-hander Victor Santos in a 5-3 win at Tropicana Field. The young catcher's next 30 at-bats were very forgettable -- just four hits and 13 strikeouts.

"I remember it well," Cash says. "I closed my eyes, swung, happened to run into the ball and it went out of the park. The problem is I remember the next 30 at-bats also." Kevin lasted only 13 games that summer with the Devil Rays, long before they became just the Rays and learned how to win.

Cash, who turns 37 on Saturday, stepped up to the plate for the Rays on Friday and once again hit the ball out, a sizzling display of energy, enthusiasm and baseball savvy.

The question now is whether his encore will live up to the impressive, yet demanding expectations placed on him as the Rays' new manager.

Kevin Forrest Cash, a native son of Tampa, has returned with the Herculean task of filling the huge shoes left when Joe Maddon, one of the best in the business, opted out of his contract on Oct. 24 and signed a $25 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.

Maddon guided the Rays to a 754-705 record with two division titles, four postseason berths and an appearance in the 2008 World Series during his nine seasons.

Cash is determined that novelist Thomas Wolfe had it wrong in 1940 when he wrote "you can't go home again."

When Matt Silverman, Rays president of baseball operations, said longtime bench coach Dave Martinez was eliminated from the list of candidates, he added, "We determined that our clubhouse would best benefit from a new voice that will add to our already strong and cohesive culture."

That "new voice" became Cash, who after Wednesday's 12 hours of grilling by Silverman and his lieutenants, became the youngest manager in the Major Leagues.

I asked Cash during Friday's conference call from his Ohio home how he'll introduce Silverman's desire that status quo is not what management wants. Yes, Kevin said, his will be a new voice.

"You go back to what Joe Maddon and his staff has done over the last years here and the impact they've had," Cash said. "Then, you look at the group in the front office.

"The voice is obviously going to change a little bit, but the culture they've created is something I'm extremely fortunate to be part of -- and to join in with."

There's obviously newness to Cash taking charge and he'll implement his ideals, but he believes "what they've been able to accomplish and are about on a daily basis" should be respected.

"Yes, there's some newness to it, but at the same time I have a ton of respect for what's left in place and what has moved on," he said.

Silverman said "after 12 hours [of interviewing], we were drained, but Kevin was just getting started. He has great energy and has the ability to connect with people. He forms relationships and builds on them. We could see the bonds that he creates and that's going to benefit him in our clubhouse as we move forward."

In the end, Silverman added, "it came down to the energy, the poise and confidence he has, but also the open-mindedness that goes along with it. That's a rare combination to have in an individual."

A year ago when Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox were elected to the Hall of Fame, I determined they signaled the end of an era.

Baseball managing is dramatically changing. No longer are grass-root baseball lifers taking over the dugout. The new breed is young, managerial experience is no longer a requirement and the skipper isn't the face of the team.

Most managers today are an extension of their general manager and the executive wing. They're tied to computer-generated analytical studies of players and teams. They alone seldom make all the on-field decisions.

Cash is a perfect example, a prototype.

He beat out Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who had a managerial stint with the Seattle Mariners and obviously more dugout experience.

Cash, on the other hand, will bring enormous baseball experience gleaned from his eight seasons in the Majors and the last two working as a coach under the artful Terry Francona, Cleveland's manager.

"As a catcher, a scout and a coach, Kevin has always been a student of the game. The communication and tireless work will put our club in a position to win, night in and night out," said Silverman.

The Rays have been a pioneer in the analytical approach to baseball.

Their new manager is fully on board, obviously a plus that helped land the job.

"I think it's awesome," he said. "Part of the discussion that we had is how the Rays have been at the forefront. To join and be a part of that, and to learn, will be great. I got to experience quite a bit of that in Cleveland and learned the value of it and how it helped out the team."

Cash played briefly for Francona when the latter managed the Red Sox, and as his Indians bullpen coach, Cash intently studied and decided what makes him so successful.

And that is what the Rays new manager will bring to Tropicana Field.

"I paid close attention to how he communicates, the relationships he creates with his players and everyone else," Cash said. "It can be the three-hole hitter or the backup catcher. I see how he treats people. It boils down to creating quality relationships and that's the philosophy I plan to bring to the Rays."

And that will be his first voiceover. With his return to the Rays, a leadoff "home run" will be nice, but what happens after is the bottom line.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondnt for Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.