By Maureen Mullen
BOSTON -- Darnell McDonald and Ryan Kalish shared a table while signing autographs Saturday at a Jimmy Fund event. The pairing was interesting, and perhaps appropriate. In 2010, McDonald opened eyes throughout baseball, playing in more big league games in one season than in his entire previous career combined after being drafted in the first round (26th pick overall) by the Orioles in 1997. Last season, Kalish, making his big league debut, demonstrated some of the promise the Red Sox have seen in him since he was drafted out of high school in 2006.
The pair of outfielders -- the right-handed hitting McDonald and left-handed Kalish -- may find themselves in similar situations when the Red Sox open spring training. With the addition of left fielder Carl Crawford and the return from injuries of Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, the Sox outfield is suddenly crowded. Crawford, Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew are all left-handed batters, while Cameron is a righty.
Kalish, who made his big league debut July 31 while the Sox suffered lineup-wrecking injuries, is expected to start the season at Triple-A Pawtucket, barring anything unforeseen.
And, thats fine with him.
Wherever I start, I start, he said. My career, what I plan on doing, is get better, keep learning. Everything happens for a reason. So, whatever happens, happens. And Im sure down the road its going to be good for me either way.
McDonald, who turned 32 in November, seconded that emotion.
Just basically its the same thing, McDonald said. We have a lot of left-handed outfielders right now. Im a right-handed bat. For me, Im just preparing to be ready, whatever happens. Ill wait to see what happens as far as my role and the things that Ill be doing.
For McDonald, 2010 could not have gone much better. In 117 games, he hit .270 with nine home runs, 34 RBI, and nine stolen bases in 10 attempts. He was the only American League outfielder to appear in at least 30 games and start at least 10 games at all three outfield positions. On April 20, in the eighth inning against the Rangers at Fenway Park, he hit a pinch-hit, game-tying home run in his first Sox plate appearance. Then in the ninth, he hit a game-winning, two-out single, his first career walk-off hit.
McDonald, who played through a thumb injury for most of the season, undergoing surgery in October, said his thumb is 100 percent now. On Thursday he will receive the Boston BBWAA Jackie Jensen Hustle Award.
I dont think you could create any more memories than last season, he said. Hopefully, well see this year. But last year was pretty special, even though we didnt make it to the playoffs. That would have topped it off. Its really tough to explain. It feels like Ive been here for years, as far as teammates and the way the organization has taken myself and my family in.
This year marks the first time since 2004 he will begin a season with the same organization with which he began the previous season.
Every offseason I prepare the same way, he said. The only thing that feels different is a lot of the excitement. It feels good to be coming back to familiar faces. I cant say enough about the teammates and the Boston Red Sox organization. So, I think thats the best thing about it. Instead of going to a place where you got to establish new relationships and things like that, youre coming back to a familiar spot. Thats what Im excited about.
McDonald is also excited about the additions of Crawford, a friend, and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Its exciting for everybody any time you can add great players like that to your lineup that have that type of talent, he said. Even as a player Im excited to watch these guys in action. Ive known Carl for a while. Its kind of like playing with another friend out there. All the guys that Ive talked to in the offseason feel the same way. Everyones ready. Its like, yeah, spring trainings about to start, but now you have the feeling that everyone cant wait to get down to Florida.
Kalish is also excited for the addition of Crawford.
Its awesome. For us as a team its great, Kalish said. Hes the epitome, speed and strength outfielder. Hes the elite. Hes one of the best at what he does. And, for me, its great because I get to watch guys like that, learn from them. I got to keep learning. Thats how you keep getting better at this game.
One of the things he learned last season was the importance of staying even-keeled.
This game, the big leagues, as good as it can be, it can be crazy the next day, he said. You could go 0-for-4. You start feeling like Oh, am I going to get sent down? You got to get that out of your head and just play. So, youre always learning but that was probably the mental part of it was huge, for sure.
Kalish, who turns 23 in March, was a ninth-round pick in 2006 out of Red Bank Catholic High in New Jersey. In 53 games with the Sox he hit .252 with four home runs and 24 RBI playing all three outfield positions. His two grand slams tied a Sox rookie record. Kalish is in Boston through the end of the week and will receive the rookie of the year award from the Boston chapter of the BBWAA Thursday night.
His big league experience last season helped him develop more confidence.
Definitely, he said. The next time, whenever it is that I come back hopefully -- its still going to be awesome. Its the big leagues. But its not going to be as overwhelming. It can get overwhelming. This time, knowing a lot of the guys, having teammates, not coming into a totally brand new clubhouse, will be a little bit easier I think.
While this is the first offseason in which he has major league experience, hes preparing as he does every year. He has spent most of the last six weeks working out in Arizona at Athletes Performance with Jacoby Ellsbury and other big leaguers.
Getting to the big leagues is one thing. Staying is another, he said. You got to keep working hard, harder. And just trying to pick up things here or there. Getting out to Arizona was awesome. Its been a lot of good work and hopefully itll pay off.
Nick Johnson was out there. We were just talking hitting, lefty swings. He was really cool to me. Hes had a really good career being a really good hitter. So it was good to talk to him and just talk baseball. It was cool meeting him. Hes a very open-hearted guy.
One of the main things he learned about himself last season?
I learned that I definitely want to play in the major leagues for a long time, he said. Getting a taste of the big leagues, its the ultimate plateau for us as ballplayers. So that's probably what I learned. I want it. I want to be there for sure.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen