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Huntsville’s Craig Kimbrel named National League’s top relief pitcher for 2014 season

Newson October 23rd, 2014No Comments

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel wished he could have accepted his award on Wednesday in uniform, the way his American League counterpart, Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals, did.

While Kimbrel’s season is over, Holland’s team is playing in the World Series. Kimbrel was presented the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award and Holland received the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award before Game 2 of the World Series between the Royals and the San Francisco Giants.

“I’m a little jealous,” Kimbrel said. “He gets to wear his uniform right now.”

Kimbrel went to Lee High School in Huntsville before playing at Wallace State in Hanceville.

Kimbrel led the National League with 47 saves during the 2014 season. He had a 1.61 earned-run average and struck out 95 batters in 61.2 innings. He gave up 30 hits and 26 walks.

The awards were presented for the first time this year. The award winners were chosen by nine top relievers from baseball’s past, including the namesakes for the awards. The four living Hall of Fame relief pitchers – Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Finger, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter – also were on the selection panel, along with three pitchers from the top five in career saves – John Franco, Lee Smith and Bill Wagner.

Kimbrel is the first pitcher in baseball history to have 40 or more saves in each of his first four full Major League seasons. Over the past four years, Kimbrel has 185 saves — 48 more than any other pitcher. Already Atlanta’s career saves leader, Kimbrel became the third pitcher to register at least 40 saves in four consecutive seasons, joining Hoffman, who did it twice, and Francisco Rodriguez.

Kimbrel named Braves’ Clemente Award nominee

Newson September 16th, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA — Though he is still learning the many different ways he can assist as the spokesman for Athletes Curing Kids’ Cancer, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel has already made enough of an impact on the Atlanta community to be named the Braves’ nominee for this year’s Roberto Clemente Award.

“At this point, I’m still figuring out what I can do and who to help,” Kimbrel said. “It’s been fun figuring that out over the past few years. I’ve come to learn that you can do a lot more than you think you can if you just try.”

Wednesday is Roberto Clemente Day throughout Major League Baseball, a day instituted on the 30th anniversary of his passing in 1972 to keep alive Clemente’s spirit of giving.

Beginning Wednesday, fans will be able to go to MLB.com/ClementeAward to decide which of this year’s 30 club winners will receive this prestigious Roberto Clemente Award. The nominees were chosen based on their dedication to giving back to the community, as well as their outstanding ability on the field. Voting will end on Oct. 6.

“My wife [Ashley] and I do as much as we can to help,” Kimbrel said. “Our time is limited and affects how much we can actually help. But when we get the chance, we do.”

Many members of the baseball world have come to recognize Kimbrel as the only pitcher in Major League history to notch at least 40 saves during each of his first four full seasons. Clay and Grainne Owen have come to know Kimbrel as a kind-hearted, generous individual who has proven to be the perfect spokesperson for their charity, Curing Kids’ Cancer.

“We just feel so blessed,” Grainne told MLB.com last winter. “We really do. If I had written down all of the qualities I wanted in somebody, I couldn’t have found anyone any better.”

The Owens started their charity in 2004, one year after their 9-year-old son Killian died of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, which has become recognized as the most common and curable type of childhood cancer.

During his 4 1/2-year battle with this disease, Killian underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. He also received experimental targeted treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

“They are great people,” Kimbrel said. “They’re only focus is to raise money to come with better research. They send their own doctors through schooling to come up with new cures and learn more about pediatric cancer, which is so different than regular cancer, but they treat it the same. We see that as a problem, because how are you going to treat a child like an adult, because a child’s body can’t withstand the same amount of stress that an adult body can.”

Kimbrel dons golden cleats for good cause

Newson September 5th, 2014No Comments

MIAMI — The eyes of the baseball world have been on Craig Kimbrel as he has spent the past few years mixing jaw-dropping breaking balls with high-octane fastballs. Over the course of the next few weeks, these eyes will also be drawn to the gold cleats that Kimbrel will wear to raise awareness in the fight against pediatric cancer.

Through his role as the spokesperson for Players Curing Kids Cancer, Kimbrel learned that gold had been adopted as the official color to use with any endeavor that promotes September as Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. After some thought, the Braves closer decided to have Nike design and manufacture the gold shoes he will wear whenever he pitches over the next few weeks.

“I had the cleats made myself,” Kimbrel said. “It took a little bit of wheeling and dealing and ins and outs to get it done, but we were able to get it done, and I think it turned out great,” said Kimbrel, who donned the cleats for the first time during Wednesday’s win over the Phillies.

Fans wishing to participate in an auction for Kimbrel’s gold cleats can place their bids from Sept. 20-30. All proceeds will go to Curing Kids Cancer, a non-profit charity which helps fund innovative pediatric cancer treatments. For more information about the auction visit http://curingkidscancer.org/news-kimbrel-auctions-gold-cleats-for-childhood-cancer-research.aspx.

Kimbrel wears gold cleats for charity

Newson September 3rd, 2014No Comments

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Craig Kimbrel insists he was not trying to be like Mike – as in Michael Johnson.

The Braves closer donned gold-colored cleats as he earned his 42nd save of the season in nailing down a 7-4 win over the Phillies Wednesday afternoon at Turner Field. The bright footwear was reminiscent of the custom-designed pair of golden-colored racing spikes that Johnson wore during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta while running in this very same stadium.

Kimbrel wore the cleats to raise awareness for a charity he works with called Curing Kids Cancer.

“They raise money for research for pediatric cancer,” Kimbrel said of the charity. “September is the month and the color is gold to raise awareness. I decided to put those cleats together and wear them in a game and try to raise awareness.

“We are going to try to auction the cleats off and try to raise a little bit of money for the charity.”

Kimbrel said he had the cleats made, an effort that took some “wheeling and dealing.” He added he was pleased with the final product and hopes they will end up with helping the cause.

Kimbrel joins short, elite list with 40th save

Newson August 30th, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA — Craig Kimbrel joined yet another exclusive club when he notched his Major League-high 40th save to end Friday night’s 5-2 win over the Marlins.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kimbrel became just the third Major League pitcher to register 40 or more saves in each of four consecutive seasons. Trevor Hoffman did it twice (1998-2001 and 2004-07) and Francisco Rodriguez matched this accomplishment from 2005-08.

Kimbrel’s success this year adds to the accomplishment he achieved last year, when he became the first pitcher in Major League history to record at least 40 saves in each of his first three full seasons.

Kimbrel has successfully converted 90.7 percent of the 197 save opportunities he has had since the start of the 2011 season. His 178 saves during this span are 47 more than any other Major Leaguer over the same period.

Kimbrel, Braves visit children’s hospital

Newson July 24th, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA — Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has visited Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta many times, but the experience never grows old for the hard-throwing right-hander. When asked about his visit on Thursday afternoon, he responded, “I love it every year.”

“They’re not all baseball fans, but they all know that we’re in there to try to make them feel better,” Kimbrel said. “And they make us feel better. With what they’re going through, if we can put a smile on their face just by seeing us, our bad days don’t seem so bad. And I feel like that’s what we all take out of that.”

Kimbrel has visited both with the team and with his wife, Ashley, as part of his partnership with Curing Kids’ Cancer, a non-profit organization dedicated to funding cutting-edge treatments for pediatric cancer.

Numerous teammates joined Kimbrel on Thursday, including Justin Upton, Shae Simmons and Alex Wood. Wood was grateful to take part in the visits.

“It’s kind of one of those things where you feel a little bit more selfish,” Wood said, “because it’s almost like they inspire you so much and make you really appreciate how fortunate we are to do what we do and have the loving, caring families, and the health of our families, day in and day out.”

Wood was appreciative to meet several Braves fans who keep up with the team, but he also enjoyed the experience of talking with the patients who do not watch baseball.

“There’s other ones that aren’t that interested in it, and those are the ones that really make you feel fortunate to be there and they’re allowing us to come in there and spend a few minutes with them and kind of just hang out and show our appreciation,” Wood said.

“Let them know that there’s people outside of their families and people at the hospital that are thinking about them and hoping they get well.”

Kimbrel dominates American League batters

Newson July 16th, 2014No Comments

MINNEAPOLIS — While enjoying the honor of being an All-Star during each of his first four full Major League seasons, Craig Kimbrel has never shied away from the chance to get to know some of the National League’s top offensive stars.

Whatever friendliness he shows while spending a couple days as their teammate will not trump the intimidation factor he can instantly regain with his high octane heater and commanding mound presence.

“I talk to everybody,” Kimbrel said. “I tell them they’re either going to get a fastball or a curveball. They know that. I’m not trying to set you up. If they do ask, I might tell them I’m working on a changeup or something.”

Kimbrel certainly wasn’t tipping anything as he recorded three strikeouts in the scoreless seventh inning he produced during Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Target Field. The Braves’ closer might have completed the inning in perfect fashion had his Atlanta teammate Freddie Freeman not fumbled Alexei Ramirez‘s one-out grounder.

“It got Craig to be able to get another strikeout with me making that error,” Freeman said with a laugh. “I did that for him.”

Other than the fact that the American League claimed a 5-3 win, there was plenty of reason for the Braves’ participants to be smiling at the end of a memorable night. Freeman singled in his first All-Star Game at-bat and Kimbrel took advantage of the chance to shine on a big stage.

Julio Teheran, the Braves’ other All-Star representative, was not permitted to pitch because he had started on Sunday. However, the 23-year-old hurler experienced his thrill as he participated in Tuesday afternoon’s Chevrolet Red Carpet Parade.

“That was the most fun I’ve had here,” Teheran said. “You get to see everybody and hear them yelling my name. That’s cool. It made me feel proud and like a star.”

Kimbrel certainly looked like he legitimized his star status as he got Derek Norris, Brandon Moss and Ian Kinsler to swing through third-strike pitches. Kinsler had also been one of the victims when Kimbrel struck out the only two batters he faced during the 2012 Midsummer Classic. This year’s outing was certainly more memorable than the one Kimbrel experienced last year when he surrendered hits to three of the first four hitters he faced and ended up allowing what stands as the only run he has allowed in three All-Star Game innings.

“No runs scored, and that was what was most important,” Kimbrel said. “Three strikeouts just makes it a little sweeter.”

Freeman ended the sixth inning with a tremendous stretch to complete a defensive gem Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon began by sliding through the outfield grass. The first baseman then provided a brief scare when he reached into the stands to get a foul ball and bumped his side on the wall. As he made his way back to his position, Freeman playfully signaled to Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez that he was hurt and then shared a laugh with Kimbrel. Gonzalez, who was an NL coach, smiled and patted his right hand near his heart.

“The ball he went after over in the stands, he made everyone a little nervous,” Kimbrel said. “I was like, just calm down a little bit.”

Before he settled down, Freeman allowed Ramirez’s grounder to climb up his left glove arm. But the error was an afterthought when Freeman singled through the right side off Sean Doolittle with one out in the eighth inning.

Recording a hit in his first at-bat allowed Freeman to distance himself from the frustration he felt last year, when he gained his first All-Star selection and then incurred a left thumb injury that prevented him from playing.

“That’s a special moment,” Freeman said. “I was just trying to make contact really. My hands were shaking a little bit. But once I swung 1-0 and got that one out of the way, everything kind of calmed down after that.”

Now that they have experienced a few hectic and memorable days at the All-Star Game, the Braves’ contingent will head back to Atlanta to rest for a couple days. They’ll be back to business on Friday as they face the Phillies and attempt to at least remain tied with the Nationals atop the National League East.

“You obviously want to be winning your division, but it’s not a bad thing to be tied,” Kimbrel said. “We match up with [the Nationals] a lot during the second half, so those are going to be the really important games that we play.”