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Kevin Kiermaier is a key to Rays marketing in 2016

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays recently released their list of fan promotions for 2016. Kevin Kiermaier leads all players in number of dedicated promotional items, with three. He will be the first player honored, on the weekend of April 16 and 17, with a Gold Glove bobble head on Saturday and a glove for kids under 14 on Sunday. The Rays will also give away a Kiermaier Claus bobble head in July, presumably to celebrate Christmas in July. Chris Archer, the ace of the staff, is second with two promotional items. Team leader and Rays captain Evan Longoria only has one giveaway item scheduled.

The Rays scheduled this year’s Fan Fest at Tropicana Field on Saturday 27. When I received the notice I was also given a chance to buy some autograph passes for players. The Rays raise money for charity with these passes. On the day I received it, three players’ passes were already sold out: Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, and Kevin Kiermaier.

On February 4 Smoky Bones’ Restaurants chose Kiermaier to promote their Tampa area establishments by having him attempt to eat their 35 oz. ribeye dinner. It’s usually meant to feed 2-3 people. Kiermaier gave it a valiant effort, but as he told a reporter, he’s game but he’s "no Joey Chesnutt." Still, Kiermaier raised $4,000 for a local charity, and solidified his place as the Ray most fans want to see.

(PHOTO: Will Vragovic)

Photo credit: Will Vragovic

And most recently, Kiermaier was featured, along with model Kate Holliday, in a fashion shoot for Bay magazine.  KK fans can see him in his new line of work here.

What is the secret to Kevin Kiermaier’s appeal? He certainly had a great year in 2015. He not only led the league in defensive runs saved, he set an all-time record for that category. Fans paid their way into Tropicana Field hoping to see fly balls to centerfield, and anticipating enemy runners attempting to score on shallow singles.

Kiermaier’s defensive prowess accounted for much of his value, but he hit well enough to lead all Rays players in WAR with 7.3. That was high enough to finish third in the A.L. among position players and 10th in MLB including all players. He earned the nickname "Outlaw" for his hard-nosed play. Rays fans thrilled to see him turn a routine single into a double, and a sacrifice play into a double play at the plate. Kiermaier is only turning 26 in 2016, and if he stays healthy, could get even better.

However, Kiermaier’s appeal transcends baseball in a very important way. He is,  frankly, a "ten."  I found that out during the Mets-Rays game I attended on a Saturday night in August. Although the game was tight, and I was focused on the field, I couldn’t help hearing the adolescent girls in the row behind me sighing every time Kiermaier came on the big screen.

"He’s so gorgeous," one said, staring at a Kiermaier closeup on her phone.

"I hear he has a girlfriend," said the other. "Too bad."

‘I’m sure we’ll leave her once he meets me," the first girl said. "I can set his girlfriend up with my boyfriend so no one’s feelings are hurt."

The girls' minds were not on the game, so they drifted to other parts of the stadium. I also learned it’s not just young girls that Kiermaier attracts. At another fan event during the summer I talked to a couple who had driven to the game from Gainesville. They were in their twenties and engaged to be married soon – that is, the girl said, "unless Kevin Kiermaier asks me first." She elbowed her fiancé in the side. "He understands," she said.

I also know some female baseball fans, who started following baseball in the 1980s, when the Mets had such great lookers as Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. They tell me Kevin Kiermaier is the best looking ball player they have ever seen.

Editor's Note: the female member of our editorial staff concurs.

Ballplayers’ sex appeal has been an important draw for major league baseball since King Kelly played for Cap Anson’s White Stockings during the 1880s. Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest players of all time, and played in New York. His blonde good looks certainly contributed to his endorsement income. If fans want to come to the park just to look at Kiermaier, the Rays would be crazy not to take advantage of it.

If Kiermaier keeps playing at the same level, and continues to be a fan favorite, Tropicana Field may become a popular dating destination in 2016. Look for the Rays’ marketing department to find even more ways to make Kiermaier the face of the team.