ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier originally signed to play at Purdue University before joining professional baseball. "That's my school,'' Kiermaier said.
But a large part of his heart belongs with the University of Tampa Spartans. Kiermaier, who works out with UT during the offseason before reporting to spring training, said he was bursting with pride after the Spartans captured the program's eighth national title.
When UT defeated Colorado Mesa 3-1 to capture the NCAA Division II College World Series -- the fifth national title for Coach Joe Urso since 2006 -- Kiermaier gave quick recognition on Twitter while finishing a road trip at Boston.
Upon returning to Tropicana Field on Monday, Kiermaier kept the praise going.
"At UT, all they do is win,'' Kiermaier said. "You talk to Joe Urso every year. 'Hey Joe, how's the team going to be?' He's like, 'Oh, I don't know. We have some talent. Let's see if we can piece it together.'
"Then they go to nationals all the time. It doesn't surprise me. I try to surround myself with the right people on and off the field. Being around that team every offseason, it's a positive for me. I'm so fortunate to be around winners.''
Kiermaier said the Urso-led UT staff is "the best coaching that college has to offer.''
Kiermaier said he has taken a few Spartans under his wing, instructing them in outfield defense and base-running.
"I do what I can,'' Kiermaier said. "I try to pass along some tips here and there. Obviously, those guys are really talented.
"It's such a cool thing. I'm a huge Purdue Boilermaker fan. But I'm feeling like a proud dad in a sense with the UT guys. I can't wait to talk to them about their national-championship experience and all the memories they made. It's going to be a fun summer for them. They have lots to be proud of.''
Kiermaier said he's constantly talking about the Spartans with Rays first-base coach Ozzie Timmons, who was a two-time All-American at UT. Timmons, a member of the UT and Sunshine State Conference Halls of Fame, was also beaming about the Spartans' accomplishment.
"It never gets old,'' Timmons said. "It's another major accomplishment for the program. I'm very proud. You can't beat the history and tradition of UT baseball. I'm so proud of those guys and happy for all the Spartans.''