Like everyone else wondering when Major League Baseball will return, Kevin Kiermaier is going a little stir crazy. Normally, he's Fort Wayne's reason to watch “SportsCenter” every summer night to see what spectacular play he's come up with, but right now the Tampa Bay Rays center fielder is even asking his wife to throw things at him.
On purpose, as hard as she can from 15 feet away, and aiming as much as possible. Granted, these are tennis balls, but that's either love or lunacy.
“If I get hit in the face or the chest, I don't get mad, I just feel like I should have caught it,” Kiermaier said. “I'm trying to get those fast-twitch muscles firing as much as I can so when we get back onto the field hopefully the transition won't be as bad as it could be.”
Kiermaier, 30, knows as much as anyone else about when MLB teams might reopen spring training and schedule games. To stay ready, he hits in a batting cage and off a tee, throws into a net, sprints every other day and works out as much as possible from his Tampa, Florida, home, concentrating on his core, legs, obliques and his lightning-throwing right arm.
One of baseball's best defensive outfielders, the Bishop Luers graduate has won three Gold Glove awards and a Platinum Glove Award as the American League's best defensive player in 2015. He made his debut with Tampa Bay in the wild-card playoff game in 2013 and during his seven-year career, Kiermaier has a .249 batting average with 68 home runs and 235 RBI.
“It's kind of weird how good my body feels by doing all that, but as long as your muscles are firing and just doing what is asked of us on a daily basis from a baseball standpoint, I feel great right now,” he said. “If we were called up on to start training tomorrow, I'd be ready to rock and roll, no questions asked. You just improvise and make do with what you've got.”
All the gyms and training facilities are closed, and that's where his wife Marisa comes in with her deadly aim. Kiermaier has asked the former college volleyball player to throw the football around with him, roll him grounders in the street so he can simulate his throwing footwork and basically try anything they can dream up for unique ways to help him stay sharp. Sometimes it's fun to brainstorm, he said. Now, if only he could figure out a way for her to throw batting practice.
“I just don't want to take a long layoff and then try to get going again right away,” he said. “It's a very odd request coming from me, but she was an athlete and she has that competitive fire, too. She's all for it, and that's what you need in times like these. She knows how much I care about what I do, and she's trying to help in any way she can.”
When they aren't working out, the Kiermaiers are playing and loving on 18-month-old son Karter. He provides instant stress relief and a welcome distraction. Kiermaier said he understands he wouldn't have had as much time to watch his son grow if the season was in full gear. Not missing any of these moments right now is a blessing, he said.
“We have some long stressful hard days on the body and the mind from the physical and mental aspect of what it takes to play this game, and there's not a bigger blessing than coming home to a great wife and my son who is just a whole new element,” he said. “He makes me forget about the bad days and you need that balance in your everyday life. I've been very fortunate and I'm thankful for it and try not to take everything for granted. I am so lucky.”
But he's also ready to play again. He sees his willingness to push himself and train in the offseason as a sign of professionalism. He wants to improve and be as good as he can be all the time. It's his job to be ready, and right now, he's more than ready.
“From an athlete's standpoint, we are addicted to competing and that's not even an exaggeration,” he said. “We're built in a different way and everything is a competition and that's what drives us. Not having that has been a wake-up call and lets us know how much we miss it. The whole country is dealing with the same thing. There are much bigger things going on and if not playing baseball is one of the worst things in my life right now, I'm doing OK. I really am.”