FORT MYERS, Fla. — The meaning of faith and the power of prayer seldom make public appearances during spring training.

This week, Craig Kimbrel has brought both back to Boston Red Sox camp.


After a nearly three-week absence to attend to the second of three scheduled heart surgeries for his daughter Lydia, who is barely 41/2 months old, Kimbrel walked onto a back field in his uniform, dug his cleats into the moist clay, bent over and cocked his right arm into its familiar haunted bear-hug hang before rearing back to unleash scorching fastballs past hapless Red Sox minor leaguers.

Back on familiar turf practicing at a craft he excels at like few others, Kimbrel appeared as normal and natural as could be.

Any parent who has been through a health crisis with their child or anyone with an ounce of empathy could tell you, that was a new and changed Kimbrel standing on the mound.

After he and his wife, Ashley, watched their daughter recover from a harrowing, delicate surgery performed at the tenderest of ages, Kimbrel returned to work more grateful than ever for the blessing of health.


He and his wife will never receive an answer to why Lydia was born with her challenges. Questioning that fact of life is beside the point.

“My wife and I talk about it all the time, we’re very strong in our faith – we believe that everything in life happens for a reason, even if we don’t understand it at the time,” said Kimbrel. “There’s a lesson to be learned and something to be shared through every step you go through in life. As difficult as this is, and I know it will take time, hopefully this experience and everything we’ve been through, we can share that with others, try to impact someone else’s life. Because I know for a fact my daughter’s going to be able to do that one day.”

Lydia Kimbrel had her first surgery when she was four days old, on Nov. 7.

The latest surgery to repair the heart defect went on the calendar as soon as the last one was over. Now, Kimbrel said his daughter is “in a good place.”

Kimbrel spoke of how the “amazing” medical team at Boston Children’s Hospital patiently and authoritatively walked the family through the procedures Lydia needed, with Kimbrel saying “I think I know my daughter’s anatomy better than I know my own.”

Only the slightest tremor in his voice and watery eyes betrayed the emotional and physical toil the Kimbrels just endured.


“This time was definitely tougher, knowing her, spending all offseason with her,” said Kimbrel. “It was tough when she was an infant, but we didn’t know her like we do now. It’s just going to get tougher as the years go, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt in life. It’s not something that’s going to be easy, but it’s something we’re going to have to stay strong for, because she sure is.”

Kimbrel alluded to the family’s good fortune of playing for the Red Sox, who play baseball less than a mile from Boston Children’s Hospital in the Boston medical area, home to some of the finest hospitals in the world.

Once again, it’s part of a plan that the Kimbrels played no part in designing but live in with full acceptance.

“We’re definitely going to try to let this make us better – we love that girl more than anything,” said Kimbrel. “God gave me this ability to play baseball and if it wasn’t for this game of baseball, we wouldn’t be in Boston and having this care.

“She’s on the way up. It was just two days ago we were pushing her around on the stroller and she was getting close to being her same self. It’s very encouraging and unbelievable to see.”

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora was happy to have Kimbrel back.


“When things like this happen, this is real and the whole vibe in the clubhouse, just praying and thinking about them,” said Cora, “I do believe that helped, I honestly believe that. I’m just happy that he’s here.”

The #LydiaStrong T-shirts that reliever Robby Scott had made up and Kimbrel’s teammates have been wearing since he left are only part of that support Kimbrel received. He expressed gratitude for all the love and all the prayers from all quarters.

His daughter is better, and he is back to work – in that order.

“It’s definitely a job – my family comes first and then baseball comes,” said Kimbrel.

“I have to thank the Red Sox for letting me be there for my family and helping me continue to prepare while I was at home.”

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