He is also one of the most popular.
That was evident Monday afternoon, when Kimbrel — who is now the Atlanta Braves closer — returned to Rome as one of the special guests for the R-Braves’ annual Hot Stove Gathering at The Forum.
The event was a sell-out, according to club officials, and Kimbrel’s appearance was almost certainly a driving force behind the boost in ticket sales. Kimbrel signed autographs for fans and addressed the crowd.
Kimbrel, who has emerged as one of the most dominating closers in major league baseball over the past two seasons, spent parts of the 2008 and 2009 seasons in Rome.
His combined numbers for those two seasons were simply terrific: He pitched in 26 games, going 2-0 with an 0.83 ERA and converting all 14 of his save opportunities (including notching 10 saves in 10 chances in 2009).
He compiled 64 strikeouts in 32 2-3 innings in those two season.
Those stats were a sign of things to come for Kimbrel, who was named the NL’s Rookie of the Year in 2011 and last year became the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out more than half the batters he faced for the season. He helped lead the Braves to the postseason, where they lost the NL wildcard playoff game to the Cardinals.
Since being called up to the majors, he has compiled an 11-4 record with a 1.46 ERA and has converted 89 saves (in 100 chances) for Atlanta.
Kimbrel was one of several big-name guests at Monday’s event, along with Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren and Rome manager Randy Ingle, among others.
The event, which was held at lunchtime this year as opposed to the usual evening starting time, served as a “preseason pep rally” for the Rome club.
The R-Braves open the season on April 4 in Savannah. They play their home opener on April 6, also against Savannah.
NOTE: During the Gathering, the Braves remembered former play-by-play J.B. Smith, who passed away in October.