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Kiermaier: 'I live and die' for Purdue

Rays center fielder rooting for Boilermakers in NCAA tournament
MLB.com @wwchastain

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Kevin Kiermaier is amped up for the Boilermakers.

The Rays' center fielder, an Indiana native, is smitten with Purdue University, so he's excited about their chances in this year's NCAA March Madness tournament. The fortunes of the team mean a lot to him.

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Kevin Kiermaier is amped up for the Boilermakers.

The Rays' center fielder, an Indiana native, is smitten with Purdue University, so he's excited about their chances in this year's NCAA March Madness tournament. The fortunes of the team mean a lot to him.

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"It hurts when they lose," Kiermaier said. "I care too much. That's because I'm a real fan. I live and die through those games."

Kiermaier always sports Purdue gear this time of year. On Friday, he'll be locked in and ready to go when No. 2 Purdue plays No. 3 Texas Tech in a 9:57 p.m. ET game.

"I love when they pull off those great wins," Kiermaier said. "It just makes my night. I can go to bed a happy man. But I'm one of those guys who take losses hard. It plays a part in my mood."

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Kiermaier teased that his wife, Marisa, "hates how much I love them."

"I remember a couple of years ago, they lost to Arkansas Little Rock," said Kiermaier, referencing a particularly painful loss when the Boilermakers blew a late 13-point lead en route to an 85-83 double-overtime loss on March 17, 2016, in the first round of the Midwest Regional. "Marisa was my girlfriend at the time, and we were supposed to go out to eat before I drove back to Port Charlotte. I think I said maybe 10 words. I was just thinking about the loss.

"She was so mad at me. Saying the Purdue game caused us to have a terrible dinner because I was silent the whole time. My emotions got the best of me. You win some, you lose some."

Kiermaier became a Purdue fan as a youngster, following the lead of his father and grandfather.

"My mom liked Notre Dame and Indiana, unfortunately," Kiermaier said. "But I never went over to the dark side. I kept rooting for the good guys my whole life.

"As I got older, I really became a fan. I just learned to love their football and basketball programs more than anything else."

Tweet from @KKiermaier39: The journey begins today @BoilerBall !!! I got everyone in the @RaysBaseball clubhouse pullin hard for you fellaz!!

Kiermaier grew up playing basketball with his brothers in the driveway of his family's Fort Wayne, Ind., home. Later, he played on his high school team, but he did not play his senior season.

"I grew up playing basketball, but I stopped my senior year because I needed to get a baseball scholarship," said Kiermaier, who signed a letter of intent to play for the Boilermakers before signing with the Rays. "I had to work out playing baseball, had to get ready for my senior season, because I didn't have any offers. I had to make that sacrifice. Basketball was my favorite sport growing up. I made the right call, though."

When asked for a scouting report on his basketball abilities, Kiermaier offered, "I could always dribble and shoot threes. I wasn't much inside the three-point line, I was a little pesky defender."

A great day for Kiermaier came in 2016 when Purdue hosted him and his family and friends for a basketball game. They got to spend time and shoot baskets with former Purdue and NBA player Brian Cardinal, who was known as "The Custodian."

Video: TB@NYY: Kiermaier slugs an RBI ground-rule double

"It was awesome," Kiermaier said. "[Purdue] gave us courtside seats. We have a great relationship. Hopefully, someday, I can be a booster. Anything I can do for that university. I love them, and I would have loved to put that jersey on, but the Rays gave me an offer and I was ready to play."

"Tampa's most dedicated Purdue fan" will be glued to his TV on Friday night. If they come away with a win, Kiermaier's mood will be drastically different on Saturday morning. The season's end doesn't suit him well.

"It always stinks when you lose in March and I have to wait until November to start back up again," Kiermaier said. "You see a great group of guys, and they're never going to be together again. I take the losses hard. Like I said, I care too much."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Kevin Kiermaier