Growing up in Hawaii, San Diego Padres’ closer Kirby Yates never pictured himself doing anything else than playing the sport he loves- baseball.
Kirby Yates brings tremendous value to the San Diego Padres.
The All-Star closer is one of the best in the game as he currently owns a 1.13 ERA and a 0.854 WHIP. With 33 saves, Yates leads the major leagues. His combination of a mid 90s fastball and a power split-finger have resulted in 77 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched. Yates has walked nine in that time showing excellent command and a no-fear attitude while attacking hitters relentlessly.
The 32-year-old was not always a closer. Forty-six of Yates’ forty-seven career saves have come as a Padre. The native of Hawaii learned over the years to develop the mindset of a closer. Pressures of closing can get to some, but there are no issues from Yates in regards to that role. “There is always pressure, regardless. I don’t think getting the last three outs is all that different,” Yates said. He rationalizes the demands of closing as just another player doing his job. “The only thing that is different is that if you give up two runs in a one-run ballgame on the road, then you get walked-off on,” Yates added with a smirk.
The San Diego Padres’ pitching staff is full of very talented hurlers. There are multiple pitchers who top out in the upper 90s and beyond and the majority are in the very early 20s. “They are extremely talented. They are asking questions and starting to learn a little bit,” Yates explains. The staff, as a group, is taking these young men under their arms to expedite their development. “The best way for them to learn is to go out there and pitch. The more they pitch, the more they will understand the type of weaknesses and the certain type of things you are going to have to do to become successful,” Yates told East Village Times. Experience is the best way for these men to learn. Some will sink. Some will swim. They just have to go out there and experience it themselves. “You try to help them as much as you can.”
This past winter, Yates was part of a major league group that toured Japan. He played in several games against Japanese teams and speaks about how that trip really helped him focus for 2019. “It was incredible. It was a trip of a lifetime and something that I will never forget,” Yates recalls. He beamed when talking about the trip as you could see, it meant a lot to him. “The way everything was taken care of was first class. I got to experience some Japanese culture and the way they love the game. It was awesome. MLB and the Padres took care of everything, and it was first class all the way,” Yates said.
Playing baseball in the islands of Hawaii is not all paradise for gifted youngsters. You are isolated out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it takes a lot for recognition. “It is sometimes tough for people to get off the island. To get exposure, you are going to have to leave and go to the United States (the mainland). Just based on the fact, there are more eyes here. It is not easy because it is a five-hour plane ride and it costs money,” Yates explains. For most on the islands, this is not possible. Leaving would be the first time for many, and its not a possibility because of financial restraints. Yates was lucky in that regard. “The first time I really left Hawaii for baseball was my senior year in high school. I went to play in a showcase in Arizona. That is how I ended up at college,” Yates said. One trip out of the state of Hawaii and a chance to compete against some of the nations best earned Yates an opportunity to play in college.
Though playing in Hawaii is not easy, Yates loved every moment of it. “It is tough, but I would not trade growing up there for anything.” Joey Cantillo is a prospect in the Padres’ system who is from Hawaii as well. The two have communicated a bit over the last year or so. “Just in spring training a little bit. I talked to him a few times. I haven’t had a chance to really talk to him, but I know he is having a really good year,” Yates said. He keeps tabs on Cantillo and is well aware of his stats and the progress he has made in 2019. “That is exciting. That is awesome. Any time you see a young Hawaiian boy doing their thing, you root for them. You want to see as many Hawaiians kids in the big leagues as possible. He is knocking on the door, and that is pretty cool,” Yates said with a smile on his face.
Motivation is big for major leaguers. They would not be in a major league locker room if they did not find a way to give their best each day. “I have just been playing this game since I was a little boy, Since (I was) two or three years old. My brothers used to play, and I was the batboy. My dad used to coach. I ave always been around the field and the game. It is the sport I fell in love with. I have never pictured myself doing anything else,” Yates explains. He is fortunate to have found his love early and is making the most of it at the highest level of professional baseball.