ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Cash was thrilled where he was, finishing his second season as the Cleveland Indians bullpen coach, never thinking a bit about being a manager, "not for one moment," when the Texas Rangers called in September to say they wanted to interview him for the top spot in their dugout.
Cash didn't get that job, but he became intrigued and confident that even being only 37, just three years removed from an undistinguished career as a backup catcher, and never having managed a single game, he could handle it. And he presented himself to the Rangers so well in doing so, he quickly gained a reputation throughout baseball as a future success.
That led to another unexpected opportunity for Cash a couple of weeks later with the Rays, his hometown Rays, having been born and raised in Tampa, graduated from Gaither High and playing for the Devil Rays briefly in 2005.
Now he was even more prepared, more determined, more clear in his thought process. He aced the initial 90-minute phone interview to get named one of the three finalists to replace Joe Maddon, then walked into the Trop on Wednesday morning for a formal interview that carried on for more than 12 hours.
"We were pretty drained," Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman would say later, "but it felt like Kevin was just getting started."
Indeed he was.
Team officials called to tell Cash on Thursday and then the rest of the world on Friday, that he was ready and able, naming him the fifth manager in Rays franchise history.
"I was pretty much speechless," Cash said. "Just, 'Wow.' There's been a lot of tears from my family — my mom, my dad, my wife. It's a surreal moment, but extremely exciting."
That excitement — obvious during a 30-minute media conference call Friday — and energy for the job Cash showed, along with a reputation for tremendous people skills, were cited as the primary reasons he got the nod. He was chosen over Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who had something Cash didn't, two seasons managing in the major leagues. Neither Cash, nor the Rays, see that as a concern, much less a problem.
"It came down to the energy, the poise that he has, the confidence but the open-mindedness that goes along with him," Silverman said. "That's a rare combination to have in an individual."
Also, Silverman said: "He has an ability to connect with people, he forms relationships and he builds on those relationships."
Terry Francona, who managed Cash as a backup catcher in Boston and brought him to Cleveland as a coach, said he will be a great fit.
"They just got about as quality a person and a coach as you're ever going to find," Francona said. "He impacted so many people so quickly in Cleveland. Just every day, he helped everybody, including myself. I don't think he realized how much he impacted everybody, but he did a fabulous job.
"He was able to connect with everybody. He genuinely cares for guys. And he's a quick learner. . . . I think (the Rays) got lucky."
Cash — who turns 37 today and will be the youngest active manager in the major leagues — received a multi-year deal. No details on length or salary were disclosed.
He was already immersed in his new job Friday afternoon from his Cleveland-area home, doing interviews, calling Rays players and stealing a few glances at his wife's computer screen as she began looking for a new home for them and their three kids — the oldest being 8 — in his old hometown.
Cash is also talking with his new bosses about finalizing his coaching staff, discussing what qualities they should seek in hiring a bench coach (with managing experience not necessarily a prerequisite) and how best to deploy the current coaches, who are all signed for 2015 and expected to be retained, though with the possibility roles could be changed.
And as for the lack of experience, in that the March 5 spring training opener will be the first game Cash — who played parts of eight seasons in the majors during an undistinguished 12-year pro career — has ever managed?
Cash said the combination of being a catcher, analyzing opponents as an advance scout for Toronto in 2012 and spending two years of thinking along pitch-by-pitch with Francona and the other team while running the Cleveland bullpen has him prepared enough.
Silverman said there is also plenty of support.
"When it got down to it, the security of our situation with the staff in place and the clubhouse culture that we have gave us more comfort," Silverman said. "I look at Kevin that his baseball age is much older than his 36, almost 37, years on this planet. He's been a student of the game. And that transition to manager is one we think will be a relatively easy one, made even easier by the environment we already have here."
Though Silverman said during the search they wanted a "new voice" to take over the team when Maddon opted out of the final year of his contract after a nine-season run, Cash said he comes in with "a ton of respect for what's left in place." He called the Rays' heavy use of analytics and advanced statistics "awesome" and said he was eager to learn more. He will take a lot from Francona in terms of being personable and consistent in his approach. He acknowledges that he won't know what style of game he likes to manage until he gets a better sense of the players they have.
He does, however, know what his priority is going to be.
"The approach is you build relationships," Cash said. "Everything is about the people you get to work with and those relationships, from the players, the (staff) personnel, the front office groups, top to bottom everyone throughout the organization. And I don't know if age really matters in how you build relationships and communicate with people."
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.