INDIANAPOLIS — Throughout Section 113, almost directly behind home plate at Victory Field, several pint-sized fans, some wearing Greenfield-Central old gold and blue, cheered as Kyle Gibson took the mound.
With nearly 75 tickets provided for family and friends on Thursday night by the Greenfield native, Gibson took the hill for the visiting Triple-A Rochester Red Wings against the Indianapolis Indians — a ball park he hasn’t pitched in since 2011.
“I was thinking about it when my mom picked me up at the airport. It was almost six years to the day before Tommy John,” Gibson remarked on his last career start in Indianapolis. “To be able to go down memory lane and to think about the road I went down that year and a half. It gave me a little bit of an ability to look back at my roots and look at where I came from.”
Being home helped him put his current situation into perspective, Gibson’s father, Harold, remarked while watching from the stands with his wife, Sharon, who could be heard several sections away cheering on her son earlier in the night.
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“No walks. First pitch strikes,” Harold Gibson said. “He knows what he’s down here to work on.”
A few days prior, Kyle Gibson was a part of the Minnesota Twins starting rotation. He just turned in one of his better starts in a troubling season — his fifth summer as a Major League pitcher.
A first-round pick, 22nd overall in 2009 out of the University of Missouri, Gibson worked up to the Big Leagues after enduring Tommy John surgery along the way and thrived in 2014 with a 13-12 record and an 11-11 record in 2015.
The past Saturday against Detroit, Gibson took a shutout into the eighth inning and later finished the game with his sixth win of the season. He allowed five hits, three walks and struck out five through 7.1 innings.
On Tuesday, however, he was optioned back to Triple-A after the the Twins traded for left-handed starter Jaime Garcia from the Atlanta Braves. With veteran pitcher Bartolo Colon in the Twins rotation and Gibson having options remaining, the 29-year-old was the odd man out.
But it was more than that, Gibson admitted to his father. He knew a demotion was possible. His 2016 campaign was less than stellar. An injury slowed his progression, and an up-and-down season led to a 6-11 record and 5.07 ERA.
This season, a rough April that saw his ERA swell to 8.06 led to a May demotion to Rochester before he rebounded with a solid 2.92 ERA in a pair of Triple-A starts.
In his second go around in the minors, Gibson was locked in. He pitched 5.0 one-hit innings, struck out five and didn’t issue a single walk.
“You can a have a couple different mentalities when you get sent down and obviously, there is a business side of the game that nobody likes,” Gibson said. “But you’re either going to feel sorry for yourself and be negative or you’re going to go down there and go to work.”
Gibson bounced out toward the mound for the bottom of the third inning after retiring six of his first seven. With several Greenfield Youth Baseball Association players in the stands, former high school teammates and previous coaches, he felt right at home.
“That’s what it’s about,” Harold Gibson said. “He’s pumped. He Tweeted out at 4:30 p.m. I told him, there’s two ways you can do this. You can either pout, and he hasn’t. He can hold a grudge. Or the other you can do is realize you’re very blessed and able to do something anyone would trade to do in a second.”
Gibson chose the latter and he hopes it leads to a return to the majors where he’s 38-46 overall with a 4.80 ERA in 116 starts.
“I was disappointed (by being demoted) but sometimes the numbers just don’t work out. Sometimes there are moves teams need to make,” Gibson said. “I’m just going to keep working on stuff I’ve made strides on and just try to be ready anytime they decide to give me a call back up.”