Lefty Jake Kalish returned to High-A Wilmington to start the 2017 season, the team he ended the season playing with. But a lot happened before he officially reported to spring training.
Kalish received a phone call to participate in the World Baseball Classic that was held in March for Israel. “It was something I never experienced before. My brother (Ryan) was going to play for Team Israel a few years ago and I was always kinda jealous of him. When they called and said they wanted me to play, I was overwhelmed and honored and jumped at the chance.”
If you follow baseball and the WBC, you know a lot of the game’s top players (especially the American players) turn down the invitation. Did Kalish hesitate? “No, not really. Obviously I had to clear it with the Royals first and they were one hundred percent on board. Once they were cool with it, I was one hundred percent, let’s go.”
Israel was a bit of a Cinderella story during this WBC, as they went 3-0 in the first round, advancing from Pool A in Seoul, Korea to the second round in Tokyo where their run came to an end. Overall, Team Israel went 4-2.
What was the WBC experience like? “Geez, the baseball experience in itself was unique in its own, especially playing in Japan with 55,000 people all chanting in unison. Never seen it before. And then we get into Asia and experience the culture and a different way of life was really something I’ll look back on.”
Were you nervous when you got to pitch against the Netherlands in the first round (1IP, H, 0R, 0BB, 2K) and then the Netherlands again in the second round (2/3IP, 2H, 2R, 0BB, 0K)? “Not really. I was more nervous for the exhibition game to prove to my teammates that ‘hey I can play’. I was the new guy. I didn’t play in the qualifying round unfortunately. So I was more nervous to prove to my teammates that I belonged and once that was out of the way, it was easy going from there.”
What was your favorite moment from the WBC? “Just overall, the teammates. It was something special just to put together 25 guys, 28 guys, and all be on the same page. It’s something that usually takes a full season to get. It was really awesome to be able to come into the clubhouse and everybody be on the same page, everybody kinda razzing each other like you would if it was August and it’s the first game of the season.”
Israel was full of veteran players, many with big league experience. Did Kalish learn anything from them? “Obviously you try to pick guys’ brains like Josh Zeid and Jason Marquis. I thought they were really good mentors. Obviously they’re out there competing to make sure they take care of what they need to take care of. But they’re also really helping out the young guys. It was really interesting just to see how at that level guys that have been in the Major Leagues and how they go about their day, picking pieces from their routine, and learning on that level was great as well.”
With the WBC going on in March and Kalish being a minor leaguer without a big league spring training invite, what were his preparations for the tournament? “I take my offseason training pretty seriously and I had been working out in Arizona on my own since November. My arm felt good. Obviously coming back from injury last season was something that was a mild concern, but being ramped up and ready to go prior to even learning about it (being selected to play) was no issue at all.”
Would you play in the WBC again? “Absolutely,” Kalish said without hesitation. “I hope they call in what 2021. Yeah I really do hope they call me because I will be one hundred percent in.”
After talking about the WBC, we moved on to talk about his older brother Ryan, who has experienced just about everything in baseball. He was a ninth round pick in 2006 by Boston and reached the big leagues in 2010 (I remember watching Ryan play in the Red Sox minor league system). However injuries have plagued Ryan, as he missed the 2013, 2015, and most likely the 2017 season. He did get back to the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 2014 and 2016. “Ryan has been just one of the unluckiest guys I know. The thing that is astonishing to me is his mental strength. I think he’s on surgery number 13. He calls me like ‘get yourself up there because I’ll be back as soon as I’m healthy again’. And that’s something that I believe he will because he’s just mentally prepared for anything that comes his way. It doesn’t faze him and that’s really the biggest thing that I try and take away from him.”
Fast forward to the future and you and Ryan are in the big leagues, but on different teams. How do you pitch him? “I’m going right after him,” Kalish laughed. “I don’t care. We talk about it every now and then. Just face him the same way I face anybody else. Challenge him. I’ll take my strength against his strength any day, just like anybody else. If he gets a hit, so what. If I get him out, so what. I’m sure there will be a little razzing going on, but at the end of the day, we’re both in each other’s corner.”
The Blue Rocks begin a road series in Salem tonight, but will be back in Wilmington for a four-game series on Thursday night. Head out to the ballpark soon if you want to see Kalish pitch, because I do not think he will be around much longer with how he has started the season (6.2IP, H, 0R, BB, 9K).
If you want to watch the entire interview, check it out below: