Kimbrel full of holiday cheer, optimism at 'Christmas at Fenway'

Red Sox's new closer attends annual event

Kimbrel full of holiday cheer, optimism at 'Christmas at Fenway'

BOSTON -- Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel was born and raised in Alabama, played five years with the Braves in Atlanta, and spent one year with the Padres in San Diego. Suffice it to say, the fireballer's first Boston winter may come as a shock to the system.

But on Saturday morning, standing inside the Fenway Park concourse at the Red Sox's annual "Christmas at Fenway" event, Kimbrel was basking in the mid-50s sun.

"The weather is awesome right now," Kimbrel said. "It's like this year-round, right?"

Unlike last year, when Kimbrel was scrambling to find new digs in San Diego after being traded on the eve of Opening Day, the 27-year-old righty is enjoying a smoother transition to Boston.

"I get to come up here and look for a place to live and not have to do it while we're on a seven-game homestand," Kimbrel said. "It's going to be quite nice, especially getting to know the guys in Spring Training."

The first player to text Kimbrel after the Nov. 13 trade? Second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

"He said, 'Welcome to the team and I can't wait to get things going. It's going to be a special year,'" Kimbrel said. "And I really do think it's going to be."

Kimbrel is nothing if not confident. He expects big things out of his new team in 2016.

"I'm excited to be here in Boston to have the chance to win," he said. "I think the team that's being put together is going to have a great opportunity to go all the way and win the World Series, which is every player's goal and dream every year."

The Red Sox gave up a pretty penny to get Kimbrel -- four of their Top 30 Prospects, according to MLB.com's rankings -- but he has been perhaps the game's best closer since his first full season in 2011.

Kimbrel has saved 224 games over the past five years, 58 more than anyone else in baseball, and his career K/9 rate is 14.5.

"Every time I watched him, I was like, 'Man, this guy's a bulldog,'" said lefty reliever Robbie Ross Jr. "He throws hard, he goes right at guys, he doesn't back down. That's something I've always respected, is somebody who goes out there and attacks people and goes right at 'em."

One source of optimism for fans and players alike is a revamped Red Sox bullpen, which added right-hander Carson Smith on Dec. 7. Smith had a 2.13 ERA last season and gave opposing righties fits.

"It's not going to matter if the starter goes six innings or if he goes eight innings," Kimbrel said. "We're not going to lose games when the starter comes out. We're going to expect our bullpen to go out there and carry those innings throughout the entire season."

As Kimbrel spoke, the atmosphere behind him was laid back -- fans purchased tickets, posed with World Series trophies and mingled with characters such as Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch. Kimbrel joked that he might even get a chance to sit oin Santa's lap.

But the new closer, as team president Sam Kennedy was quick to point out, is intense. He wants the ball. And he wants to win.

"Nobody can be harder on me than myself," Kimbrel said, asked if he can handle the sometimes unforgiving atmosphere in Boston. "If I blow a save and get booed, I deserve it. I expect the highest out of myself, so I don't think that would get to me much at all.

"My idea is to get the ball the next night and come out and get my job done. Then everybody can cheer."

Aaron Leibowitz is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.