ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Remember the name, because Kevin Kiermaier could leave an impression for many more days to come.
The young outfielder has become one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ most impressive players since May. He’s a serviceable hitter, but his most notable moments have occurred when he flashes his defensive skill. On many occasions since he was promoted from Triple-A Durham, the native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, has produced highlight-reel moments that draw buzz online and create large roars at Tropicana Field.
Recently, FOX Sports Florida spoke with Kiermaier, 24, about his inspirations, growing popularity and other topics related to his rise …
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: You were called up from Triple-A Durham on May 17, then again on May 28. What was it like when you received your recent call to join the Rays?
KIERMAIER: It was kind of crazy. We were in Toledo, and I didn’t get told until 1:30 that morning. And then I realized I was to be in a cab that next day at 5:30. Then we went to Toronto. So it’s always a good thing to be called back up again. So it was satisfying. At the same time, it was different, because (outfielder) Brandon (Guyer) had his finger injury (fractured left thumb), so it was for the wrong reason. But at the same time, you’ve got to fill a roster spot. I came up here trying to make the best of any opportunity I got, and I’ve been up here ever since. So like I said, it’s all about making the best of it. But it’s always a thrilling feeling when you get called back up here, because it’s what you play for. You want to be up here as much as possible. So it’s never a bad thing.
FSF: Was there one piece of advice that stuck with you from any particular player?
KIERMAIER: A lot of guys just tell me, "Just never change the way you play." It’s just one of those things where a lot of guys respect how hard I play and the way I go about my business. And they tell me, "Never change," and I don’t plan on doing that anyway. Just hearing that from them is cool for me, because earning respect among the players is a big thing, and I’ve done that to this point. It’s just one of those things where I control how hard I play, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.
FSF: Where do you think that comes from, the noticeable hustle and your approach to the game? How did you develop that?
KIERMAIER: I feel like I’ve been that my whole life, really. I never want to Cadillac anything by any means, and I’m not a flashy player by any means, and playing hard is what got me to where I am today. And you can’t go away from your strengths. And it’s one my attributes that I have in my game — it’s one of those things I can never get away from or I won’t be the player I am right now. I know what I can and what I can’t do out there on the field. Like I said, I control how hard I play, and it’s finally starting to get some recognition now, and a lot of people appreciate it.
FSF: Do you have a favorite defensive highlight? It seems like you’ve left quite a few marks on recent games.
KIERMAIER: The one (diving catch) versus the (St. Louis) Cardinals (on June 11). That was bases loaded in a key situation where I could have changed the game for a negative for us. That would have been a bases-clearing double or triple. I came down with the catch, and we ended up winning that game. I got a lot of recognition for that catch. So I’d say that was my favorite one.
FSF: What advice would you give to a young player who’s looking to make an impression when they get that call-up?
KIERMAIER: It’s the same game, but just a little bigger stage. You’re getting called up for a reason, because they know you can play. Don’t change a thing. Play the game that you know how to play. Like I said, know what you can and what you can’t do. Don’t force anything or get away from what got you up here. So that’s the thing, knowing your limitations and what your role is.
FSF: Is it tempting to get away from your game at this level? Is the temptation there to become tense?
KIERMAIER: I think everyone’s different. But for me, I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary for me, because like I said, just maturing as a player and as a person, I know what I can and I can’t do. And I want to make the best of any opportunity I get, and I want to stick up here. So if you go away from what your gameplan is or your approach and then things usually kind of start go on a downhill plane. You want to slow the game down, make it as easy as possible, though it will never be easy. But like I said, slow the game down and just play the game you know how to and just go out there every day ready to play.
FSF: Did you have any baseball influences growing up?
KIERMAIER: No, I’ve been asked that a couple times. I really don’t. I mean, Sammy Sosa was my favorite player growing up. But (I knew) as I got older I could never do what he does and hit all those home runs that he did and all that staff. It’s one of those things where I’m the only Kevin Kiermaier out there, and I want to make a name for myself and have little kids emulate me. But I never really emulated any player. I’m very unorthodox, and like I said, I play hard. I’m trying to make plays on defense and do what I can in the batter’s box and make anything happen that I can out there. So it’s just one of those things where I’m just so grateful for the opportunity right now. It has been a fun time for me being up here being an everyday player for the most part, for the time I’ve been up here. Like I said, this is just trying to set up a foundation of my future in the big leagues, and it’s a lot of fun. I mean, this is a really fun team to be a part of. So it’s one of those things where I’m really soaking this in right now, and we’re just trying to get as many wins as possible. So it’s a process, but we’re still coming here working every day. So it has been fun.
FSF: How important is that for you to be remembered and make an impression on teammates and manager Joe Maddon?
KIERMAIER: It’s big. Everyone talks behind closed doors, and I just want to make a good impression. I’m not being anyone who I’m not right now. It’s one of those things where I’m just coming up here playing the way that I always have, and I’m not changing anything. Like I said, I’m getting good recognition for it. The coaches and players really like the way I play. It’s cool to get noticed now, not so much with the spotlight, but like I said, earning players’ respect. David Price came up to me the other day. I made a sliding catch, and he’s like, "You’re my favorite player, man," and he gave me a hug after I made a sliding catch for him close to the bullpen. So it’s little things like that that go a long way for me. I don’t know if he meant it or not, but it meant a lot to me. Being up here and being able to produce offensively, defensively, anyway I can, is huge for me knowing that I can compete up here and I can play this game for a long time if I keep my approach and stay healthy and not change anything.