On Saturday night during the Rays second to last home game of the regular season, a tribute video appeared on the jumbotron in right field. Twenty seconds in, most of the 22,169 fans in attendance rose to their feet and began to clap in appreciation.
The highlight reel, lasting just under a minute, ended with the words “Thank you, KK.” It became clear that this video was the all-but-official end to an era of Rays baseball that started 10 seasons ago.
It might be unusual for a team to show a tribute video for a player who is still on the team and has not announced a retirement. But it was fitting that Kiermaier, who is unlikely to be back next year (as no one expects the team to pick up his option), should get a farewell moment.
As the video ended and gave way to the applause of the Rays faithful, Kevin Kiermaier ascended the steps of the dugout and turned to face the crowd. Tipping his cap and expressing his gratitude, he touched his heart and pointed to the crowd. The teary-eyed farewell lasted barely two minutes, but encapsulated a decade of memories for both Rays fans and Kiermaier alike.
The Outlaw. 1️⃣ of 1️⃣. #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/hAt7jlxNnu— Bally Sports Sun: Rays (@BallyRays) September 24, 2022
Kiermaier made his debut at the tail end of 2013, added to the Rays 40 man roster and promoted to provide late inning defense for Game 163 and the Wild Card game, and he remained through the down years, the rebuild, and the resurgence. As pillars of the franchise such as Evan Longoria and David Price were traded away, he remained. Through the mediocrity of the mid-to-late 2010s, he was the only constant and at times the only bright spot, finishing in the top-20 for MVP in 2015.
By 2019, he was the veteran of a group that would make their first playoff appearance since his debut in 2013. By 2020, he was the longest tenured Ray, and helped lead the club to their first AL East title since 2010 and first World Series appearance since 2008. In 2021, he was there once again as the Rays won back to back division titles. And, despite season ending hip surgery this season, KK is again a leader as the Rays look to return to the postseason for a fourth consecutive year.
He’s had a lot of highlight reel moments with the bat and the glove.
Here are just some of his postseason moments:
One of my favorite moments in Rays history belongs to Kevin Kiermaier. This is the loudest the Trop had been since 2013. #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/yG54VFhord— Gary (Rays AL East Champs) (@gary_rays) November 30, 2021
Playoff power hitter Kevin Kiermaier— Stadium (@Stadium) October 8, 2020
Rays lead 4-1!#RaysUp | #Postseason pic.twitter.com/5wFJrbCq0D
Kiermaier. To Adames. To d’Arnaud. This is what perfection looks like pic.twitter.com/sCdQfhB3Yj— Diamond Digest (@Diamond_Digest) October 9, 2019
tbh ... we've run out of captions to describe this defense pic.twitter.com/0Hn27I7qI1— Tampa Bay Devil Rays (@RaysBaseball) October 14, 2020
Over time, he grew to be a charismatic team ambassador and eventually the face of a franchise that lacked one. He will depart as one of the most championed defenders in team history winning 3 Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove. Run prevention has always been the “Rays Way” and no player embodied that spirit more so than Kiermaier.
If in 2010 you had told the Rays front office that their 31st round pick of the draft would go on to accumulate 23.4 fWAR and play in 914 games across 10 seasons, they would have laughed you out of the room. Yet, here we are.
If his time with the Rays is indeed done, he will leave ranked: (Rays history)
- 5th in games played: 914
- 6th in hits: 756
- 2nd in triples: 51
- 3rd in stolen bases: 112
Over the course of his time with the Rays he has slashed .248/.308/.407 with a 715 OPS and 98 OPS+.
While roughly league average at the plate, he was a magician with the leather. He roamed centerfield with an unmatched combination of speed and skill that won him a number of awards and the title, “The Outlaw”.
His career .988 fielding percentage is outstanding. In center specifically, it is even higher at .990. He has played 7,235.2 innings of defense and has accumulated 147 defensive runs saved. He has made 68 outs above average and 52 assists. He could get to balls, of course, but his arm — its strength and accuracy— were also key weapons. When some less experienced third base coach would decide to send a runner on a shallow ball to center, Rays fans would think “clearly he hasn’t seen Kiermaier in action.”
He has only committed 25 errors in his entire career. And only 10 of those were strictly fielding errors; 15 came on offline throws.
Through all the injuries, he never eased up. He always put his body on the line. For that, we tip our cap.
If indeed the Kevin Kiermaier era in Tampa Bay is over, and realistically all signs point towards that reality, a thank you is well overdue.
For all the memories and heart stopping plays in center and for a decade of heart and hustle...Thanks, KK.
It has been one hell of a ride.