Seven years into his professional baseball career, Ralston Cash found himself thankful for the opportunity to simply lace up his cleats.
The Lakeview Academy graduate reminds himself to always be grateful, his method for combating the “complacency” he said cost him a year when his ascent to the major leagues seemed most likely.
He clung to that mindset in recent months as his time in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization came to an end and his subsequent stop with the Seattle Mariners farm system fizzled out.
“A lot of us in life get so comfortable and take everything for granted,” Cash said. “It’s one of the things I want to take forward and really focus on. I want to be grateful every day — to the world and to everyone around me — and devote 100 percent of my lifestyle to baseball.”
Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles gave him plenty more to be thankful for.
Cash signed a minor-league deal with the Orioles organization Nov. 28, continuing his career that appeared in jeopardy despite an extended stay in Triple-A in 2016. A second-round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2010, the organization released him in August before he opted for free agency when it became apparent the Mariners had too many rising prospects to retain him.
The reliever was so concerned he wouldn’t find a new team that he agreed to play in a Venezuelan winter league just so clubs could see him pitch.
“In our business, sometimes we downplay how much we stress about things,” Cash said. “I was thinking, ‘Would this be my last season? Will I be given a chance? Has my time run out?’ It was definitely a relief, getting that phone call (from Baltimore).
“They were excited to see me in free agency and were interested in me. Breathing definitely became a lot easier after I heard from them.”
Cash said the Orioles plan to start him in Double-A next season with a focus on his command and further developing pitches.
The Cornelia native had seemingly left that level behind during 2016, compiling a 4-0 record with a 2.63 ERA and 28 strikeouts through 24 innings with Triple-A Oklahoma City. Cash said his velocity consistently hit 95-96 mph, and a call-up to the Dodgers seemed imminent.
But he began 2017 back with Double-A Tulsa, and his ERA ballooned to 5.28 despite improved strikeout numbers. He pitched 44 ⅓ innings, requested a release from the team in June and eventually received his wish two months later.
“The biggest thing was I got complacent and basically lost a whole year,” Cash said. “That’s on me. I can’t blame anyone else. It’s my fault. Last year was very frustrating and a humbling experience. I lost a lot of sleep and calmness trying to control what I couldn’t control.”
Cash credited Micah Owings, a Gainesville native and MLB veteran, for helping him let go of the things he had no sway over.
Perhaps more importantly, Owings was instrumental in Cash landing his next gig.
The Mariners inked Cash to a minor-league deal, picking up another area player after the team signed Owings to a similar deal last October. Owings reached out to his connections in Seattle’s front office, which offered Cash a contract the same day he hit free agency.
The 26-year-old was sharp in his late-season outings for Double-A Arkansas, recording four strikeouts and just one earned run across 4 ⅔ innings. Though the Mariners didn’t have a roster spot for him, Cash was thankful for his time with the team, during which he regained his slider.
“Their pitching philosophy is second to none,” he said. “The things I got to learn in such a short time really changed the way I thought of pitching. … I felt confident on the mound. It’s crazy how awesome it was to hear a different voice for the first time in almost eight years.”
Following a brief stay in Venezuela that was cut short due to sickness, Cash is now focused on the future.
He’ll spend the remainder of this month giving back to the community through the Ralston Cash Foundation, which purchases Christmas gifts for families that have lost a parent to cancer.
Then the former Lakeview Academy superstar said he plans to “push (his) health to a new level” with an emphasis on flexibility and weight management. Enhanced cardio and power will be at the forefront of his training regimen based in Habersham County.
Cash acknowledged the Orioles could represent his final realistic shot to reach the majors. He has spent enough time ascending the minor-league ladder, climbing while others have fallen off, to know the urgency of his situation.
While he’s thankful for the opportunity with Baltimore regardless of the outcome, Cash wants to make the most of it.
“The way I see it, it’s do or die,” Cash said. “I’m at the age where you’ll either be done or play for another 10 years. I don’t want to sit on the couch at 27 or 28 and think, ‘If only I would have done this or that.’”