Kevin Kiermaier exploded onto the scene in 2014 with his exciting play and athleticism, during a time when things were looking dreary for the Rays. Their 2013 Rookie of the Year, Wil Myers, was down with an injury and their All-Star third baseman, Evan Longoria was under-performing. In a year that the Rays were supposed to be World Series favorites, they had fallen almost 20 games below .500 for the first time since 2007. Then, Kiermaier came up and gave the fans something to cheer about. The story of how he got there is incredible.
Kevin Kiermaier just spent his first season as a big leaguer. After the season ended, Kiermaier went back to his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he can be seen driving around the town in his parents 1999 Dodge Caravan, showing that Kiermaier is still humble, despite his accomplishments. Glenn Marini of the WANE News Channel recently conducted an interview with Kiermaier where the star outfielder told him that one pitch was the difference between a career in baseball and a career in law enforcement.
Here is the story of how one pitch resulted in Kevin Kiermaier explosive rise into professional baseball.
Rewind back to 2008, Kiermaier's senior year at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Kiermaier was on the mound for the Knights in a game that was win or go home. If they were to lose, Kiermaier's dreams of playing professional baseball were most likely over. There were no college scholarship offers or scouts knocking on his door. For Kiermaier to have any chance of advancing his pursuit of baseball, Bishop Luers would have to overcome to Adams Central and move on to the regionals.
The game was tied at 5 and would go into extra innings, which in high school ball is anything past 7. Kiermaier had gotten himself into a jam in the top of the 9th. He loaded the bases, but also managed to get 2 outs. Adams Central now had a great chance of ending Bishop Luer's season. Kiermaier got the batter to a pivotal 3-2 count with the bases loaded and 2 outs, he turned and delivered his next pitch. The moment it left his hand, he knew it would be high and away but the pressure got to the opposing batter, as he took a swing at it and missed, ending the threat and keeping the game tied at 5.
The game wasn't over though, as Kiermaier led off the bottom half of the inning. Kiermaier slapped a leadoff single, but as the next batter walked up to the plate, it starter pouring and the game was suspended until the next morning.
Once the players were all back on the field, with Kiermaier still on 1st with none out, the game resumed. The very first pitch, Kiermaier was supposed to be a part of a hit-and-run play, but slipped when he tried to take off and was thrown out. Luckily, his best friend (Tyler Watts) lifted a walkoff HR with two outs in the inning to send Bishop Luers into the playoffs and continue Kiermaier's hopes of playing baseball.
The Knights then blew through the playoffs and won the state championship game 14-8. Parkland College's head baseball coach, Matt Kennedy was in attendance and witnessed Kiermaier's ability to play. After the game, Kennedy asked to speak with Kiermaier and Watts. During their conversation, Kennedy asked the two if they'd be interested in attending Parkland and playing on his team, and both players immediately said yes.
At Parkland, Kiermair's incredible work ethic and determination took the notice of Tampa Bay Rays scout, Tom Couston, who had also been responsible for players such as Jeremy Hellickson and Jim Thome.
Kiermaier knew that Couston was in attendence for some of his games at Parkland and knew he would need to impress the scout. During one game in particular, Couston was along the fencing down the right field side. Kiermaier walked in his first AB and took a glance at Couston, who gestured at his wrist to say he needs to clock him running to first. Kiermaier didn't get the chance, however, after he walked again during his second AB.
In Kiermaier's third AB, he was walked yet again, but this time he threw his bat down and ran hard towards first base and through the bag. After returning to first, he glanced at Couston who gave him signal that he'd recorded the time, and possibly liked what he'd seen.
Couston later informed Kiermaier that he'd inserted him name onto the Rays draft board, and that he could be taken anywhere between the 8th and 15th rounds of the draft. Kiermaier hosted a draft party with a bunch of his buddies, waiting anxiously to receive the call, but it would not come.
The next morning, after his friends had all left, Kiermaier received the call he had been waiting for. The Tampa Bay Rays had selected Kiermaier in the 31st round with the 941st overall pick in the draft. The delayed call could have been perceived as a slight, in fact Kiermaier was reportedly "on the fence" regarding his decision, but ultimately he was ready to begin his professional career.
Kiermaier was drafted on June 9th, 2010 and he signed two days later. He didn't care that the call came so much later than expected, nor did he about the amount of signing bonus he would get, all he wanted to do was begin his professional career and show that he could make it. Close to exactly a year ago, Daniel Russell conducted an interview with Kiermaier discussing his rise through the Rays system, where he said as much:
I was a 31st rounder and knew I was a lot better than that, and wanted to prove it as soon as possible. I knew that, being the 941st pick, I was expected to do nothing, and used that as motivation.
Kiermaier accepted a $75,000 signing bonus and got off to a quick start with Rookie Ball Princeton, but struggled the following year at Single-A Bowling Green. The next season Kiermaier had a solid-but-not-inspiring year for High-A Charlotte. It wouldn't be until 2013 that Kiermaier's career took off, when he started at Double-A Montgomery and exceeded expectations, earning a call up to Triple-A Durham.
The Rays, meanwhile, were fighting for a playoff spot. A few weeks after the minor league season ended, the Rays were to play the Texas Rangers in a tiebreaker to advance to the first ever wildcard game and Joe Maddon wanted to have his top defensive player on the roster. Kiermaier made his official major league debut on September 30th, 2013 as a defensive replacement going to center field in the bottom of the 9th inning. Though he didn't have a ball hit towards him, he received his first taste of the big leagues.
He'd return in 2014 with hot hitting right out of the gate, and even though his bat struggled down the stretch, he was the most exciting part of the season with his athleticism and joyous play.
Making plays like this,
We can't wait for 2015.
You can watch the full interview below, sweet ride and all. And if you'd like a Kevin Kiermaier bobble head, be sure to pick up a Fan Fest Flex Pack ticket package.
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