FORT WAYNE – Kevin Kiermaier didn't allow an unexpected chance to play for Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays go to waste.
The Bishop Luers graduate was needed this past weekend when center fielder Desmond Jennings was placed on the bereavement list Friday because of a death in his family.
Jennings' two-day absence led to Kiermaier flying from Durham, North Carolina, where he plays for the minor-league Durham Bulls, to Anaheim, California, on Friday and starting games for the Rays on Saturday and Sunday.
It also led to some milestones for the 24-year-old center fielder. Over two games against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Kiermaier had his first major league hit, his first major league home run and made a catch to deny a home run.
That earned him another unexpected trip.
“I figured I'd be going back to Durham after (Sunday's) game, but they said, ‘Hey, you are going to stick around for now, and you're going back to (St. Petersburg, Florida) with us,” Kiermaier said in a phone interview Monday, when the Rays were off.
“It's wonderful to see him be successful,” said Kiermaier's mother, Chris, who watched Saturday's and Sunday's games on the Internet with her husband, Jim.
Kiermaier has played four games in the major leagues, but his first two games were nothing like his latest two.
Last season, he was a defensive replacement when the Rays defeated the Cleveland Indians on Oct. 2 to advance to the American League Division Series.
He made his first start for the Rays this season April 12 in a win over the Cincinnati Reds, throwing out Joey Votto at the plate from center field.
Kiermaier's latest stint with the Rays began Saturday with him getting his first hit – an infield single in the sixth inning in a 6-0 loss. On Sunday, he added more milestones and another highlight defensive play in a 6-2 loss.
Kiermaier took a home run away from the Angels' Erick Aybar in the third inning with a leaping catch at the wall. The play ended up being on ESPN “SportsCenter's” Top 10 plays, prompting numerous text messages from his friends.
“It felt great to finally show the world what I can do out there, especially on the defensive side of every thing,” Kiermaier said. “(Angels designed hitter Albert) Pujols hit one (in the first inning), and I mistimed my jump and hit the wall pretty hard and kind of looked like an idiot. I said, I'm not letting that ever happen again. I got a chance and thankfully timed this one a lot better.”
He added his first major league home run with a shot over the left-field wall in the seventh.
“Left field, I think, is 347 (feet) down the line, and that has to be one of the deeper corner outfield fences in all of baseball,” Kiermaier said. “I watched the replay, and it looks like it barely got out. But I think with that being a deep left field, it kind of surprised me a little bit. I thought I got a lot better than what it looked like.
“Thankfully, the ball was carrying a lot yesterday, and that thin air out West might have made a difference for me.”
Kiermaier said he expects to be with the Rays today when they open a three-game series at home against the Oakland Athletics. But as a member of Tampa Bay's 40-man roster and not the team's everyday 25-man roster, he can be with the Rays or the Triple-A Bulls, the highest level of minor league baseball, at any time this season.
“You know one of these times it is going to stick,” said Kiermaier's father, Jim. “He is going to go up there and stay.”