"Shouldn't" is a word that has dominated Ralston Cash's life.
Raised without a biological father, he lost his mother in a car accident when he was 3 years old. He shouldn't have grown up with what society considers a traditional dad and mom. Instead, his grandfather and grandmother assumed those roles, right down to the words themselves.
While growing up in Georgia, Cash's "parents" could barely afford to cover the costs of helping him pursue a baseball career. He shouldn't have been able to press on financially. Instead, the man he called his father took out loans and drove a 1991 Honda to make sure the family could make ends meet and help make Cash's dreams come true.
In 2010, the right-handed pitcher underwent hip surgery that kept him off the mound for the entire 2011 campaign. He shouldn't have been able to return to the form that led the Dodgers to select him in the second round of the 2010 Draft and prompted Baseball America to rank him as the organization's No. 20 prospect last season.
On Friday, like always, Cash did what he shouldn't have.
The 20-year-old allowed one hit and one walk over six shutout innings in his third appearance of the season, helping Class A Great Lakes end a seven-game losing streak by blanking South Bend, 2-0.
Cash gave up a two-out single to Gerson Montilla in the first inning, then retired 13 straight batters. The streak ended in the sixth when Ender Inciarte drew a leadoff walk.
It was, by any stretch, Cash's best outing after he gave up two and five runs in his first two outings, respectively. But he had other things on his mind Friday after losing the man he called his father to Grade 4 bladder cancer in the offseason.
"I had talked with my skipper [John Shoemaker] after my last outing and he thought my intensity needed to pick up coming into today. But it was already a pretty big day, as it was, because my family was walking in the Relay for Life for my [biological] mom and dad [grandfather]," Cash said. "So I knew the intensity would kind of take care of itself.
"[The emotion] came on pretty heavy there. I came out 15, 20 minutes before the game and kind of just sat there, thinking about the whole thing. So I went out there and did what I had to do. My dad was always saying, 'Be a man.' So that's what I did. I put everything behind me and had to take it one pitch at a time."
After the performance, which lowered his ERA to 7.88 to 4.50, Cash thought about what his family was thinking.
"He'd be blowing up everyone's phones with text messages, telling them all about it," he said. "They would've loved to have been here, but you know what, they got to see it up in heaven and that's something I'm proud of. You know what? It was an honor. I'm glad they got to see this."
On the individual level, it's taken some time for Cash to put together a performance like Friday's. After the hip surgery two years ago, he spent considerable time rehabbing. Now that the process is complete, the cousin of fellow Dodgers prospect Ethan Martin is looking forward to repeating his success.
"My arm's feeling good," he said. "I mean, shoot, it's been fresh for a year and a half now. I feel no pain in the hip because, thankfully, we had some good doctors and a good surgeon. I'm just grateful for the whole thing."
Cash, however, noted he isn't happy just to prove himself at Class A. Like those he believes are watching over him, he's hoping for something akin to a higher calling.
"A lot of people sacrificed to give me an opportunity to be here right now, so now I have to sacrifice myself just as much to prove them right," he said. "I can't sit here and think, 'It's great I've made it this far.' The Minors are a big deal, but I've got keep my focus on making the Majors one day.
"I want to be able to share my story with others and be a positive influence for kids who are going through loss. I have a lot more to go and once I get there, I'll have even more."