Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier talks Jay-Z impression, what makes an elite defender and his appreciation of hippos
MORE: Watch ‘ChangeUp,’ a new MLB live whiparound show on DAZNSPORTING NEWS: First things first: Have you retired the Jay-Z impression?KEVIN KIERMAIER: I have. People abused it early on, it’s just one of those things. I am a baseball player. I might bust it out spontaneously, but I’m not the Jay Pharoahs of the world or the entertainers who do this on the spot.I don’t shy away from it, it’s just one of those things that I don’t think they’re elite impressions. So I’m not gonna sit here and do them over and over, ’cause it’s one of those things that when it comes out of my mouth, it annoys myself and other people are probably like, “Eeehhhh, it’s not that great.” Some people aren’t afraid to beat a dead horse. But me, I’m done. SN: Being an elite defender, what does it take? Is it instinct, preparation?KK: Instinct, preparation, baseball IQ, not afraid to be unorthodox, listening to your body out there, more than anything. I always tell my guys there isn’t a right or a wrong way to do anything as far fielding ground balls, throwing guys out at the plate, as long as you’re efficient and it works, and you’re limiting movements. The more that you do that, and if it works, you don’t need to change anything. That’s why I always tell guys, when I’m talking to college players or minor league guys, don’t be afraid to be unorthodox. That being said, if I wanted to make a darn-near-perfect outfielder, I want someone who can run, who has arm strength, accuracy, wherewithall, instincts that come into play, great first step, all that. What separates good outfielders from great outfielders, great outfielders go back, take their eye off the ball, trust their route, can play a ball off the wall, rob a homer, do certain things like that. You see a lot of guys in the big leagues every year where, once that ball’s hit over their head they don’t know what to do. It’s a great thing to always see guys who take craft on that side of the game.Anyone can come in on a ball that we’re looking at the whole time, but that ball that’s hit over our head that we have to run over 100 feet or so, make a play at the wall while we’re jumping or hitting the wall, coming down, I think that’s what separates the best from the rest of the pack. It’s just one small example but it’s a big part of the game. If you don’t catch those, they’re either home runs that get out by this much or extra base hits — for sure doubles; if it’s a good runner, easily a triple. The guys who catch those plays, it’s so much run prevention.SN: Three rapid fire questions, try not to overthink these: You’re in the gym getting pumped up, headphones on, sweating. What’s you’re go-to song or artist?KK: Oh, man. I’m different, man, the heavy metal, all that stuff. There’s a lot of rap songs and country songs that get you pumped. The three songs I listen to, each and every day — this is gonna be one of the craziest answers you get, and you probably haven’t heard a couple of these. Every day before the game, I listen to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, I listen to “Beer in the Headlights” by Luke Bryan and then I listen to “Break Free” by Ariana Grande. I listen to those three songs every day. They’re not pump-up songs by any means but I love ’em, and I’ve been doing it for years now. And I know whenever those songs come on, I know it’s game time. Right after I put my eyeblack on, I’m ready to rock-and-roll, and I hear those and then my blood gets pumpin’. Very weird, random song choice, I understand that, but that’s who I am. And that’s unorthodox, and that’s who I am. I’m not afraid of that, at all. Other teammates are like, “Why does this guy listen to three random songs?” but I don’t care what they say. It gets me locked in.SN: Pizza or tacos?KK: Tacos. Big taco guy.SN: Soft or hard shell?KK: Hard shell. All day. All day. SN: A hippo and a rhino get into a fight. Who wins?KK: Wow. I’m a big nature guy, so I know hippos kill more people every year in Africa more than any other animal every year. But, man, a rhino. Hippo is a baaaaad, baaaaad animal — trust me. But the rhino’s horn, and the thick skin, manueverability around the hippo — on land, I don’t think the hippo has a shot. So I’m going with the rhino. But like I said, it hurts me to say that because the hippo is very low-key — doesn’t get enough credit for how dangerous it really is. Every year in Africa, leading killer, more than lions, all that stuff, crocs, all that. Every year. Hippo, No. 1. Each and every year. Throughout the 2019 MLB season, Sporting News will run short interviews with players, highlighting their favorite foods, activities and more.In this edition, SN’s Joe Rivera got two minutes with Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier.