Kiner-Falefa earns the admiration of Yankees veterans, youth

Isiah Kiner-Falefa makes a throw while playing at the third base during the Yankees vs. Marlins game on August 12, 2023, in Miami.
Jeremiah Dobbs
Sunday August 13, 2023

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Amidst the Yankees’ 2023 struggles, Isiah Kiner-Falefa is rewriting the story of his unique success. The super utilityman for the Yankees has won over his teammates, both young guns and veterans.

Kiner-Falefa received a strong recommendation and praise from rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe on Saturday.

“I think he’s the best in the league there,” Volpe told about Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

As LeMahieu has been taking a break, Kiner-Falefa has been doing a great job at playing third base. He has been helping the team consistently in different positions during the summer. Until Saturday, he had a .285 batting average and a .802 OPS in his last 60 games. He’s also really good at playing defense at the third base position.

Thinking about it, there’s a good reason to allow LeMahieu to take his time, which would let Kiner-Falefa play more at the third base position. He is really talented and can affect how games turn out in many different ways. His speed can cause a lot of trouble for the opposing team when he’s running the bases. Kiner-Falefa is also been able to smoothly switch his thinking to be a versatile player who can do many things. His manager, Aaron Boone, has been using him in various positions on the field.

Kiner-Falefa and Volpe: From competitors to compatriots

When Kiner-Falefa was signed in the off-season, it was a strategic decision. This helped the team for a while as they waited for young players like Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza to get better.

Ever since he started playing for the Texas Rangers in 2018, Kiner-Falefa has proven himself in different positions because of his many talents. He transitioned smoothly from being a catcher to playing in the infield.

It’s worth mentioning that he’s really good at third base. In fact, he won a Gold Glove award in 2020 for his great performance there. He’s also shown that he can play well in other positions, even if it’s just for a short time.

Volpe’s statement about Kiner-Falefa being the best really shows how much he has influenced the Yankees and the entire league. While Volpe and Peraza keep getting better at what they do, Kiner-Falefa’s advice and impressive playing set a great example for these young athletes. This confirms that he’s an important player in the Yankees’ quest to win.

Kiner-Falefa’s MLB career is an example for others


Kiner-Falefa grew up in Hawaii, and his path to the big leagues of MLB is really inspiring. He was getting better at playing baseball at the Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu when Scouts saw how good he was. This caught the attention of the Texas Rangers, who picked him in the 2013 MLB draft.

After putting in a lot of effort in the Rangers’ minor league system, he finally got the chance to play in the major leagues in April 2018. What’s really impressive is how well Kiner-Falefa plays defense. This skill of his stood out so much that he won the important American League Gold Glove Award for being the best third baseman in 2020.

He didn’t just help his team on the field – he also became the Rangers’ top batter in terms of statistics in 2020 and 2021.

But before the 2022 season, something unexpected happened. Kiner-Falefa ended up joining the Minnesota Twins, but then he was traded to the Yankees in a bigger deal involving multiple players.

Yankees’ superman

Things changed when the 2023 season started. Even though he lost his main role, Kiner-Falefa didn’t let that get him down. Instead, he embraced the challenge and started playing about 15 different positions, just like actors do in theater.

After a tough time as the main starting shortstop last year, Kiner-Falefa has been playing in various positions all around the field in his second year with the Yankees. He carries four different gloves (one for the infield, two for the outfield, and one for catching) to be ready for any chance on the field. By the time of the All-Star break, he had even pitched in four games and managed an ERA of 2.25.

Kiner-Falefa, known affectionately as Izzy, Kiner, IKF, or other nicknames teammates give him, shared that his main source of pride was being a baseball player. He received a Gold Glove award in 2020 for his performance at third base. It’s clear that he was excited when he found out he would be going to New York to play as the Yankees’ starting shortstop. Despite not making it to the All-Star Game last month and not being likely to receive MVP or Cy Young recognition by the end of the 2023 season, Kiner-Falefa remains content. He is willing to embrace whatever role his manager requires as he continues on his journey as a 28-year-old player.

According to Aaron Boone, he represents the ideal image of a teammate and a team player. Boone added that Kiner-Falefa had consistently displayed those qualities throughout his time here.

In 2022, Spring Training was a bit crazy because it started late due to issues in baseball. But for Kiner-Falefa, things were even more enjoyable. He got moved from the Rangers to the Twins, and then just one day later, he was traded from the Twins to the Yankees. This happened as he was settling down in Tampa, Florida. He had never played in the playoffs before, but he had always been a Yankees fan and understood the high expectations in New York. He wasn’t brought in to be a superstar; his job was to bring really good defense, speed, and lots of hits. With the strong hitters on the team, that should have been good enough.

Twitter – NYY

However, he didn’t get as many hits as hoped, and his fielding wasn’t as impressive as expected. While he could make impressive plays in the middle of the field, sometimes simple throws didn’t go well, or easy ground balls slipped out of his glove. This was frustrating for him, and the fans weren’t forgiving either. When the playoffs came, things got even tougher. During Game 3 of the American League Division Series against Cleveland, he made three mistakes while playing defense. As a result, he only started two out of the next six games before the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs.

It’s especially challenging at Yankee Stadium, where fans always wear jerseys of the famous Hall of Fame shortstop, Derek Jeter. Aaron Judge mentions that playing shortstop for the Yankees is really tough because it’s one of the most important positions in baseball. It might seem too simple to say that playing in New York is tough, but any big-league role is difficult. Even Boone, who was traded for the first time in 2003, had his performance drop after joining the Yankees from the Reds. He hit less well. Although he had an amazing moment when his homerun helped the Yankees get to the World Series, it’s important to note that he didn’t start in Game 7 against the Red Sox, even though he was a big midseason addition to the Yankees.

Kiner-Falefa didn’t want his time with the Yankees to be remembered as a single year of not doing well. So, during the off-season, he worked really hard. He was determined to use the sadness and frustration he felt as motivation. He says that going through that tough time was actually the most important lesson he’s learned in his career. It helped him learn how to handle difficult situations, and now he feels ready to face any challenge that comes his way, and his transformation attests to this.

However, one of his teammates thinks that Kiner-Falefa might have been moving too fast recently. He told his coaches that he was prepared to assist the team in whatever way they needed. By the time of the All-Star break, he had started 24 games in center field, 17 in left field, seven at third base, three in right field, and one at shortstop. Kiner-Falefa also practiced as a catcher during spring training, as he used to play that position earlier in his career.

Even though he lost his main shortstop position to rookie Anthony Volpe, Kiner-Falefa still played in 70 out of the team’s first 91 games. He even pitched in four games. While he did well when pitching, Kiner-Falefa hasn’t been making a big fuss about it. He understands that his pitching might be interesting, but he’s aware that he wouldn’t be pitching if the game was already going smoothly.

Yankees are in awe of IKF

Clay Holmes mentions that the people in the clubhouse don’t ignore this. He explains that the attitude Kiner-Falefa has can spread to others and have a positive effect. Sometimes, it just takes one person to show they’re ready to prioritize the team and do whatever is needed. Holmes adds that one can’t predict who might get influenced by this or how it might help the team.

Kiner-Falefa doesn’t find it hard to be a leader in the clubhouse, even though he doesn’t have a fixed position to play. He explains that the challenging year he had in 2022 turned out to be a good thing because it made him work really hard. This hard work has allowed him to become a valuable player who can do many different things for the team, like a Swiss Army knife. One of the important things he does is help the rookie, Volpe, who took over his position as shortstop. Kiner-Falefa feels he can assist Volpe because he used to be the Yankees’ shortstop. They also have lockers near each other and have built a strong connection. He believes this relationship benefits both of them.

Volpe checks out the space right next to his in the clubhouse and sees someone he considers the most dedicated worker on the team. He also points out that there weren’t any uncomfortable feelings or negativity when he took over the job during the spring. Volpe shares that IKF told him he could count on him for anything he needed. Volpe thinks IKF is the best teammate he’s ever had because he takes care of him even though he doesn’t have to. Volpe feels thankful for that.

Kiner-Falefa has put in more effort than he ever has before in 2023. He’s been trying to become skilled in even more roles than before. The tough lessons from a really frustrating year, which were even harder emotionally than his performance numbers showed, have helped him start over. But now he’s approaching things from a different point of view.

Everyone can see how valuable he is in the clubhouse, on the field, and especially in the statistics for 2023. In the second half of 2022, Oswaldo Cabrera excited fans by getting more chances to play, even taking over some starting spots from Kiner-Falefa during the playoffs. But this year, Cabrera has been having a hard time, which is common for players in their second year. However, he can take inspiration from Kiner-Falefa. He’s faced similar tough situations in New York and became better because of them.

Cabrera mentions that whenever the team needs him, no matter what he’s doing, Kiner-Falefa does a great job contributing to the team’s victories. Cabrera is always smiling and hopeful as he talks about this. He believes Kiner-Falefa sets a positive example for everyone, including himself, especially since he’s not getting a lot of playing time.

Playing in New York means that fans might boo you because they actually want to cheer for you so much. But sometimes, the noise from the booing gets really loud and crosses a line. It gets so hard for a player to perform well that they might need to go play somewhere else. However, it doesn’t have to be like this.

Boone believes that these situations can change, and Kiner-Falefa is a good example of that. Boone gives credit to Kiner-Falefa for not avoiding these challenges and always facing them.

It’s more difficult than you might think, but the player who can do infield, outfield, pitching, catching, and be a leader, decided to use all his skills. He believes that his abilities and the way he plays have helped him regain the trust of the team. Kiner-Falefa was a Yankees fan before he joined the team, so he knows the kind of players that fans like here. He talks highly about Brett Gardner, who had a determined and hard-working style that he tries to copy.

Kiner-Falefa understood that it wouldn’t be simple to win the fans over again. However, he believed that if he continued to play in his usual style, maintained his usual attitude, and stayed determined and persistent, he knew that as a former New York fan himself, he would become the type of player they admire and appreciate.

People in New York really like performers who give their all, who leave them amazed and stunned, holding their programs or scorecards after the show or game, hardly believing what they just witnessed. On June 15, at Citi Field, Kiner-Falefa was on third base during a game against the Mets. He quickly realized that the pitcher, Brooks Raley, wasn’t paying much attention to him. Kiner-Falefa hopped around on the third-base line and then decided to go for it. He successfully stole a home base, which is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. The Yankees lost the game, but that moment belonged to Kiner-Falefa. If he hadn’t decided to completely change the way he approached both the physical and mental aspects of the game, he might not have even been noticed. It’s really impressive and it’s hard to imagine a more joyous moment.

According to Aaron Judge, Kiner-Falefa’s mindset is what matters. He thinks that Kiner-Falefa had a positive mindset all along. Instead of seeing the situation as fans being disappointed, not performing well, or not being suited for the environment, Kiner-Falefa looked at it differently. He wanted to be there, to play in the big city, under the spotlight of New York.

Kiner-Falefa explains that his parents taught him and his siblings (he has a sister and a brother) to take responsibility for everything they do. He believes that when you’re honest and straightforward, it has a positive impact on the team’s atmosphere.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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