ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Longtime Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier was back at Tropicana Field for the first time since undergoing hip surgery two weeks ago. Unsure of what’s next in his career, he said his focus is on restoring health first, which has been a problem for the past two seasons.
“I’m motivated, I’m motivated, it’s like, for me, chasing something again” Kiermaier said Saturday. “I’m going to do everything in my power to try to look like the player I was a few years ago, and I hope that a team, several teams will want me. That’s what I plan, and I am very excited.”
Kiermaier, 32, a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, has been with the Rays since his debut in the 2013 playoffs. He was a fixture in center field, winning three Gold Gloves. But he’s also been injured a lot, and playing on the artificial hard surface at Tropicana Field every day might have something to do with that.
Kiermaier signed a six-year contract in 2017 which expires this year. He played his last game on July 9 and had surgery in Nashville on August 3.
The Rays have a $13 million option for next year, but they’re unlikely to use it. Conversations will certainly take place between the two parties, but not anytime soon, which suits Kiermaier. If the Rays decline the option, Kiermaier owes a $2.5 million buyout.
His goal is to recover.
“My labrum was in terrible shape, it looked horrible,” Kiermaier said. “(The doctor) showed me before and after pictures, and it was amazing that I played as long as I did.”
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Kiermaier said he already felt better and called the procedure a “complete victory.” He’s been in a lot of pain in each of the past two seasons and has had several cortisone injections to help him through it.
The operation should allow him to return to normal. He’s thrilled to be back on the pitch in 2023, but he freely admits he doesn’t know where it’s going to go.
He absolutely loved his time in Tampa Bay.
“Throughout this month that I’ve been down, I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things,” Kiermaier said. “I have a lot of memories here, I’ll try not to tear it up, but I’ve learned that the things that can make me cry and cry quite easily are my kids and the Tampa Bay Rays.
“There is no better feeling for me than running into Tropicana Field from the dugout to start a game. It will always be the thing on my mind. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. .”
Playing on grass would certainly be an option he would appreciate. He said that would also factor into his decision. But the lure of staying home with the Rays will also mean a lot.
“Part of me is like, should I play on grass every day, maybe,” Kiermaier said. “But I’ve gotten so used to everything here. There are so many pros and cons, so many more pros, but the turf is definitely a big deal.”
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