MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Cash shares managerial debut with family, friends

Cash shares managerial debut with family, friends

ST. PETERSBURG -- Years from now, when folks ask Kevin Cash what he remembers most about his first game as a Major League manager, it won't be about an excruciating 6-2 loss.

It will be more about putting on the Tampa Bay Rays uniform with his name on the back and the No. 16 right under it.

It will be more about words of advice from his dad at breakfast and all the hoopla of taking over for the iconic Joe Maddon and being the youngest skipper at 37 in the Major Leagues.

And it will be more about looking up in the stands at Tropicana Field on Monday afternoon and seeing scores of family and friends who've been supporting him and pushing him to succeed since his Little League days in Tampa.

"It won't be about the score," Cash said an hour after the last out. "Every time I looked up in the stands, it seemed like I saw a familiar face. This was very special for me and my family. I've been fortunate to be part of some Opening Days, but this was different."

There is really nothing like the first Opening Day. It's all about a new beginning, a new season, a rebirth of sorts.

I believe it was very fitting on this day for Cash that the No. 66 worn by the late Don Zimmer was retired as his widow Soot and family watched high above the field as the number joined Jackie Robinson's 42 and Wade Boggs' 12.

Opening Day was so very special to Zimmer, who died June 4, 2014. As a manager and coach, he was in uniform for 55 Opening Days. Sadly, Monday was the first since 1970 without Zimmer. He had been a senior advisor and coach with the Rays for 11 years.

Cash agreed Monday will be an important milestone in his career, and he can now file it away for future reminiscing.

"I'm very relieved to get this first Opening Day out of the way," he said. "I think we all are. It's amazing. Once you get into the third or fourth, it turns into a regular baseball game.

"The hoopla and everything before was great and I think everyone enjoyed it, but now we have 161 games ahead."

Now it will be baseball on the field and the Herculean task of competing in the rugged American League East. That won't be easy as Cash learns his new craft.

Not only was his first step in this difficult position against the defending division champions, but it was also against Buck Showalter, the AL Manager of the Year Award winner in 2014.

Showalter, 57, has now managed 2,421 Major League games. When he skippered his first, in 1985 for the Oneonta Yankees in the New York-Penn League, Cash was 8 years old.

"I didn't think about that, but I've got a lot of admiration for Buck," Cash said. "He's evolved as the players have, which is very impressive."

Tampa Bay obviously came up short in its opener, but the swagger of defending champion Baltimore showed. The Orioles have bought into Showalter's demanding, but cohesive style. Buck has a knack for pushing the correct buttons, a huge reason why he's been a winner most of his career.

There were some difficult moments for the Rays in the outfield and on the bases Monday, miscues that must be worked out.

Baltimore built its offense around three home runs. Tampa Bay closed the gap to 5-2 in the eighth and had runners on first and second with two out and Evan Longoria, who had homered earlier, up. Reliever Tommy Hunter jammed Longo on the first pitch, getting him to pop up to the second baseman.

"A lot can be said for what Evan does offensively and defensively," said Cash. "And what he brings to our lineup on a daily basis. [The home run] always provides energy.

"A lot of stuff went on," said Cash, who lost a challenge in the fifth inning when James Loney was called out. "I thought everybody played with great composure and, yes, there were some ragged moments. We competed well, and you have to give credit to the Orioles and their guys who threw the ball against us."

Cash admitted there were times when moments in the game sped up.

"Everything kind of speeds up on all of us, myself included," Cash said.

It was all about the first game, Opening Day. This will all get easier for the young skipper, but moments from Monday will be etched forever in his memory. The 6-2 setback won't be that important.

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