ST. PETERSBURG — Emily Cash was sitting in her car at stoplight in Avon Lake, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. Her daughters, 8-year-old Camden and 6-year-old Ella, were in the backseat, fresh from a trip to the dentist.
Her husband, Kevin, called to say he was on his way home. Great, she thought, he could pay the babysitter, who was watching their 1-year-old son, J.D.
"What else is going on?" Emily asked.
Kevin said, "Nothing. Just hanging out. Just hanging out as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays."
Emily was looking out the window, staring at a Lowe's. Kevin's words took a second to register.
"Whaaaaaat?" she screamed.
And just like that, Kevin Cash was taking his wife back to Tampa Bay. He was taking her back home.
On Monday, the Rays officially introduced Cash to Tampa Bay as their new manager. Actually, here's a better way to put it: They welcomed him back home.
Cash was born in Tampa. He grew up here. Played Little League here. Went to Gaither High School and Florida State. He was playing ball here even before the Rays were.
"He always had a ball glove in his hand," Cash's mom, Patsy, said.
Cash grew up on a cul-de-sac just off Dale Mabry Highway that used to be called Heather Woods, about a mile north of Gaither.
"Our neighborhood had all boys," Patsy said. "There was one big open lot where they would all play ball and (Kevin) would get them together and pick the teams. They would all want to be on Kevin's team. Not necessarily because he was the best, but he had it going on. He knew how to orchestrate the game."
Even back then, he was managing.
Credit for that goes to his dad, Mike, who spent five seasons in the minors. Mike gave Kevin all the benefits and genes of having a baseball-playing father without the overbearing parental pressure.
"I was one of the lucky kids," Kevin Cash said. "I had a dad who never pushed me. (He would say) 'Go home, get your homework done.' And yet, I don't think he can lift his right arm from throwing so much batting practice."
Mike coached Kevin as a kid and watched proudly as Kevin helped Tampa's Northside get all the way to the Little League World Series in 1989.
"I know when he was in the Little League World Series, there were 46,000 people there and he was playing second base," Mike said. "I know I was a lot more nervous than he was. He really just took it with a grain of salt."
Even back then as an 11-year-old, Kevin spent more time questioning some of his father's managerial decisions than worrying about playing on television.
"And I was right, too," Kevin cracked.
It was about that time that Mike knew his son might someday make a pretty good coach or manager.
"He was always wanting to know why this and why that, and I think those early-on questions have helped him," Mike said. "I think I always felt that he eventually would make a very good coach for someone. I never thought it would be to this extent. But he was a very good learner. He tends to be a sponge and listens to a lot of people. He's absorbed that, and you see where he is today."
Where he is today is something no one in the Cash family can quite comprehend. Kevin said the day he told his parents that he was coming back to manage the Rays "is all a blur." The only thing he does remember is that the day after he got the job — Dec. 6, his 37th birthday — Patsy cried from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tears of joy, Kevin said.
"Here I go again," Patsy said Monday, tearing up while talking about how much it means to have Kevin and his family coming back home. "Pride, pride, pride. It's an unbelievable feeling."
Patsy found out that Kevin was getting the Rays job when he called asking if she knew of a good nanny in Tampa. Seeing her grandkids anytime she wants might be better than Cash being the Rays manager.
"When they moved away, it was really hard," Patsy said. "Never did I think they would be back to Tampa in any capacity. I thought his career would take him elsewhere."
No one is happier about the return to Tampa Bay than Emily. Kevin and Emily, a Gainesville native, met at Florida State. She had an FSU baseball schedule poster on her dorm room wall and could hardly believe it when one of the boys on that poster called her for a date.
"I remember (whispering) to my roommate, 'It's Kevin Cash!' " Emily recalled.
Three months later, Kevin told her he was signing with the Blue Jays.
"I was like, 'What does that even mean? Does that mean you are not coming back to school?' " Emily said. "And I cried. (But) he would come back every offseason."
Three years later, the two married. They had three children along the way as Kevin chased his baseball dream to Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston and Houston, as well as minor-league outposts such as Durham, Pawtucket, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Round Rock. After his playing days, he did some scouting then joined Terry Francona's coaching staff in Cleveland. That ultimately led to that telephone conversation at the stoplight next to Lowe's.
For four hours, they didn't tell a soul. Eventually, they realized that they had to tell their children.
"They could tell something was going on," Emily said. "So we told them. And we said, 'You cannot say a word!' And I think our only saving grace in that was there was a (Christmas) elf on the shelf and it was staring at them. And I said, 'If you say anything, he'll know and he's going to go back and tell Santa.' "
The kids wouldn't dare be naughty.
Since then, Emily says she is living in a dream.
"I keep saying pinch me," Emily said. "But then I'm like, 'Wait, don't. I don't want to wake up if it is not real.' "
It is real. Now they can tell the world. Kevin Cash is the manager of the Rays.
His hometown team.