New York Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the first to admit that, despite their shared background, he and baseball legend Ralph Kiner are nothing alike.
Kiner-Falefa, affectionately called “IKF,” is a 5-foot-11, 190-pound, light-hitting infielder who grew up in Hawaii. Kiner, the former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder and six-time All-Star, was a white man from New Mexico who slugged 359 home runs and eventually earned induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
But, yes, IKF and Kiner are related, and the Yankees’ shortstop is doing his best to make his distant cousin proud.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa opened up about his missing relationship with distant cousin Ralph Kiner
Despite owning the paperwork proving he and Kiner are fourth cousins, the 27-year-old infielder has reached the point of acceptance.
“I tell people, but I’m brown (skinned), and they look at me like, ‘You’re lying!’” Kiner-Falefa recently told NJ.com’s Randy Miller. “I’m Polynesian, too, so they’re like, ‘No chance.’ I’ve stopped trying to convince people, but my grandpa is from Kansas. He’s full white. Ralph Kiner is from New Mexico. Full white. They were cousins.”
Although the two are related, IKF never met Kiner. However, he did attend a New York Mets game in July 2007, one where the team honored Kiner for his then-45 years and counting as a broadcaster.
Interestingly, IKF’s appearance at the game was pure coincidence. He and his youth baseball team traveled to New York, attended multiple Yankees games, and also took the trip to Shea Stadium for a game between the Mets and Cincinnati Reds.
Kiner-Falefa wanted to rush down to the field and introduce himself to the 84-year-old Kiner. However, he remained in his upper-deck seat and proudly watched the two-time World Series champions celebrate his distant cousin’s life in baseball.
“It sucked because I didn’t get to go and say anything to him. But he didn’t know who I was.”Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Kiner died in February 2014, less than a year after the Texas Rangers used a fourth-round pick on Kiner-Falefa in the MLB draft.
IKF is a much different player than Kiner, and he’s one the Yankees will need going forward
When Kiner-Falefa attended multiple Yankees games in the summer of 2007, he watched a lineup featuring the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Canó. That year’s Mets team fielded a lineup with Carlos Beltrán, David Wright, and José Reyes all in their prime.
IKF is nothing like any of those players, nor is his playstyle anywhere close to that of his late cousin — and he’s the first to acknowledge that fact.
Instead, the 27-year-old is a light-hitting infielder who will provide Gold Glove-caliber defense, impressive baserunning skills, and enviable enthusiasm. He entered the 2022 season with 16 home runs in 393 games, while Ralph Kiner never hit fewer than 18 home runs in a campaign.
Ahead of his first season with the Yankees, Kiner-Falefa admitted he still felt underappreciated.
“From 12 years old, never being the best on my team. Everybody said I’m too small. Even if I was good enough, I still wasn’t. Even now, on TV, I’ll watch the top 100 plays at shortstop. I should be up there 10-15 times, and I’m not even there once.”Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Baseball fans who watched the aftermath of the Yankees’ 2022 opener saw plenty of Kiner-Falefa, who scored the game-winning run on third baseman Josh Donaldson‘s walk-off single in the 11th inning. Although the 27-year-old went 0-for-5 at the plate, his difficult day was forgotten as soon as he touched home plate and sent the Bronx Bombers home with a 1-0 record.
Yankees fans are a forgiving bunch so long as the player in question helps the team win. If Kiner-Falefa helps bring a World Series title back to the Bronx, trust us when we say that he will — for a time, at least — earn the appreciation and respect his cousin once did.