Craig Kimbrel had one of the greatest ever seasons for a major league relief pitcher, then capped it with a wedding and, on the first week of spring training, his first hole-in-one.
Now, he's the 2012 Alabama Professional Athlete of the Year, as awarded by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
Kimbrel led a ballot that included the Minnesota Twins' Josh Willingham, pro boxer Deontay Wilder, pro golfer Jason Dufner, NBA players Mo Williams and DeMarcus Cousins and NFL players Julio Jones, Trent Richardson and DeMarcus Ware. He will be honored at the association's annual convention this weekend in Jacksonville.
Kimbrel, in his third season with the Atlanta Braves, is a native of Huntsville, where he played for Lee High School. He pitched two years at Wallace State-Hanceville before the Braves made him their third-round pick in the 2008 draft.
Kimbrel was in the majors less than two years after signing with Atlanta and was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2011, his first full season in the majors.
In 2012, Kimbrel had a 1.01 ERA, led the league with 42 saves (in 45 opportunities) and struck out 116 batters in 62.1 innings, in which he allowed only 27 hits.
Those are historic numbers. Opponents batted only .123 against Kimbrel, the lowest in the majors since 1900 (with a minimum of 60 innings pitched). No pitcher has ever averaged 16.5 strikeouts per nine innings and his 4.3-to-1 strikeouts-to-hits ratio was the best in the "live ball" era, nor has anyone retired 49.8 percent of hitters by strikeouts in that era.
"I'm not going to go out there and try to strike everybody out. I'm just going to go out there and try to get outs," says Kimbrel.
"He's got electric stuff," says teammate Tim Hudson, the former Auburn pitcher and a two-time winner of the ASWA award. "There's just no other way to describe it."
Kimbrel, who turned 25 on May 28, was named to the National League All-Star team for the second time and was selected for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
"If he can do this for a 10-, 12-year career span, he'll be up there with some of the big names and closers, you know, the (Mariano) Riveras and (Trevor) Hoffmans and those type of guys," says Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Previous winners of the award include Hank Aaron, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, John Stallworth, Kenny Stabler, John Hannah and Ozzie Newsome.