Kauai’s Kirby Yates looks to build on 2019 All-Star campaign for San Diego Padres


Kirby Yates / Getty Images

Adjusting to what comes his way is not new to San Diego Padres closer and Kauai graduate Kirby Yates.

The odds were stacked against him from the very start of his professional baseball career after not getting drafted in 2009, which came after missing the 2006 and 2007 seasons due to Tommy John Surgery.

But Yates has defied those odds every step of the way, building a journeyman career as a reliever and pitching in the major leagues for four different teams. The 2019 season was a breakout year for him, as he was named an All-Star for the first time and led the National League with 41 saves after striking out 101 hitters in 60 innings with a 1.01 ERA.

“I’m kind of one that has tried never to take business for granted,” Yates told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “Even when the last year was going as well as it was, I was kind of quick to remember how it is — the grind and kind of remember how long it took in the journey that you have. I know anytime you step on that big league mound and you’re in a big league stadium that it’s special.”

The 2020 season is a pivotal year financially for Yates. The 33-year-old is set to be an unrestricted free agent when the season is over. A season similar to his 2019 performance is likely to earn him a sizable contract. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yates has not appeared in a regular season game since Sept. 22, 2019.

“There was definitely frustrating times, I’ll admit it,” he said. “Venting sessions to my wife, just going like ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ And then you kind of gotta step back and realize you just gotta take everything in stride and be happy for what you have.”

However, the time away from America’s ballparks has allowed him to be around his wife and two young children far more than he would typically be at this time of the year.  

“I’d actually be at home for a significant amount of time which none of us are really accustomed to,” Yates said. “We’re kind of there for four months on the road, then you go on the season and you’re on the road. You just kind of bounce around and that’s your life and it’s a great life but I know my kids, they expect me home every day now and now I’m about to leave them again, so this is going to be interesting to see how they adapt.”

Yates was set to earn $7,062,500 for the 2020 season, but due to the shortened season, his salary will instead be around $2,613,125. Players and owners agreed to full prorated salaries, but because the season is 60 instead of 162 games, players will earn approximately 37 percent of what they were scheduled to make in 2020.

Salary aside, the 2020 season will be unprecedented in many ways. Teams are also set to play the entire season in front of empty stadiums when regular season games begin on July 23. Players are currently making their way back into their team’s cities, with a three-week ‘Spring Training 2.0’ set to take place in the lead-up to Opening Day.

Like he has his entire baseball career, Yates is ready to embrace the unusual circumstances.

“I think we kind of all take pride in that. We want to be at the best of our game and put on a good show for the fans, especially everybody that’s at home’” Yates said. “I know it’s been hard for me to sit at home these last two and a half, three months and it gives everybody something to look forward to every day or something for people to do every night and to me that’s pretty significant and that’s where I’m saying this is special and something that people are probably gonna remember forever.”

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