ST. LOUIS — Kyle Gibson spent nine years in the Minnesota Twins organization after being selected 22nd overall in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft.
Called up in 2013, Gibson, a 2006 Greenfield-Central graduate, has amassed a 67-68 record with 845 strikeouts over seven big league seasons.
Beginning this year, Gibson will have a new home, once baseball returns from the COVID-19 delay and the Major League Baseball Players Association and team owners work out an agreement to restart.
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Over the winter, Gibson entered free agency and signed a three-year, $30 million contact with the Texas Rangers.
On his way to acclimating to his new club, Gibson’s first year with the Rangers was halted during spring training in March, but he’s hardly sitting idle.
After posting a 13-7 record with a 4.84 ERA last year with Minnesota, Gibson saw his fastball reach a career-best 93 mph. His career-high in wins followed a successful 2018 when he finished 10-13 with a 3.62 ERA and a single-season best 179 strikeouts.
Despite a strong start to 2019, Gibson’s effectiveness faded down the stretch due to a bout with E. coli and later ulcerative colitis, which sent him to the designated list before returning to help the Twins win their first divisional title since 2010.
He pitched in relief for the Twins in the 2019 American League Divisional Series playoffs against the New York Yankees with one inning recorded.
In Texas, he is joined by former Twins teammate Lance Lynn of Brownsburg, but until baseball resumes, he’s been getting quality time at home near St. Louis with his wife Elizabeth and their three children.
While 2019 was an up-and-down journey, Gibson was well prepared for the trials he faced after the 6-foot-6 righty required Tommy John surgery in 2011 that delayed his promotion to the big leagues until 2013.
He also was demoted in 2017 to refine his mechanics, but he once again bounced back and looks to keep the trend going with the Rangers.
Recently, the Daily Reporter caught up with Gibson to talk downtime, his new team and his health.
Without baseball going on right now, how are you spending your time? What the downtime been like for you?
KG: I don’t know when retirement is going to come and when baseball is going to tell me I’m no good anymore, but when it does, I got a little glimpse of what that’s going to look like over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been able to do things I normally don’t get a chance to do. I’ve been working in the garden. We have quite a few vegetables we’re planting, and I’m teaching the kids about gardening. It’s been fun. I to got to see my daughter crawl for the first time, watched my daughter Hayden ride her bike for the first time. And those are all things I could have possibly missed had I been playing. I’m definitely excited to get back to playing, but it’s been fun to spend some extra time with the family.
What has this experience been like for you, watching baseball shutdown?
KG: It was different. Trying to still find ways to get to know your new teammates and to use the time the best way we can, obviously all of that was cut short with spring training and being shortened. But, everybody has been good about staying connected on Zoom calls, staying connected in different ways that 2020 technology allows us.
But, I think the Rangers have done a good job of getting together a group of guys that they had a pretty good idea would mesh well. I think that’s what we did. One thing (Rangers manager Chris Woodward) asked was, how can we use this as an advantage? And, if we have guys bought into the process, staying connected and staying together and working hard and making that a priority, then the Texas Rangers will be better prepared for a shortened season and aren’t going to lose any of the camaraderie. Maybe there are 30 teams trying to do that. I don’t know? But, I think we have a special group of guys that have made it fun.
Based on what you know or can divulge, what’s do you know as far as baseball’s plans to return?
KG: It’s hard to say. Obviously, in that agreement that we signed in March, players and owners, we want to play as many games as possible. I think that’s one thing that could be a little sticking point is at 40 or 50 games or whatever MLB is going to announce, that’s not even a quarter of a season, but they’re trying to give the fans something to watch and something to be excited about, and that’s what we’re ready to do. It’s what we want to do.
It’s just a very inopportune time, though I don’t know if there ever is an opportune time for millionaires and billionaires to argue. If everybody can keep their cool and talk calmly to one another, then I think there’s middle ground to be found, and I think we’ll be playing baseball before people know it.
With baseball being played in Korea and seeing state’s reopen across the nation, do you think that gives MLB hope of coming back?
KG: I’m not a scientist or a doctor or seeing what everyone else is seeing. I can only experience what I’m experiencing, but I hope so. I think, hope is something that everyone would like to have right now, and everybody is kind of searching for it right now. In these grime times with the protests going on, with the pandemic going on, I think if we have a little bit of hope show up, that would be something that would be very helpful. The hope is that we can figure out some of the issues we’re having as a country and at the same time have the coronavirus calm down and give everyone a chance to get back to normal again.
Without baseball, how are you keeping in shape?
KG: We have a shed on our property, and I’ve been able to put some workout equipment in and the local Legion gave me a wood mound to thrown off. We got to know the guy who runs the local Legion. The past few weeks, he’s given me the ability to go out and face some of his guys. That’s been a lot of fun. There are a lot of good people around here who are helping me out. It’s been interesting and fun adjusting as you go.
Wait. When you say Legion baseball, are you facing teenagers?
KG: Yep. They’ve been juniors or seniors that just graduated or ready to be seniors. It’s been fun.
OK, be honest. Anyone hit a homer off of you?
KG: Nobody’s taken me yard yet. I think in eight innings I’ve given up a couple ground-ball singles. It’s been fun. I’ve known some of these kids for a little bit or I’ve known people that know their families. I’m hoping that being around them and talking to them allows them to be comfortable in the box and have fun. I definitely don’t want them to be afraid to swing and they haven’t been. I’ve actually been able to get some good work in.
Obviously last year, you started out well, but you were also ill. Is that now behind you and has this downtime helped you get healthier?
KG: The E. coli is no longer an issue. The ulcerative colitis is still with me and may not show symptoms all the time, but it’s something I’ll just live with for the rest of my life. That’s something that’s gotten better and better as we’ve found the right medication, and then my wife who is studying fitness and nutrition, she has been helping me diet and the dietitian with the Rangers has been helping me with diet. So, I’ve got a lot of people really invested in me trying to stay healthy. So, that’s something I’m really thankful for.
This is the first time in your career you’re with a new MLB team. How exciting is this new opportunity for you?
KG: It’s definitely exciting. It’s something where I leaned on some guys who have been in free agency before for how they approached. One guy was Ryan Dozier with Minnesota, and he told me don’t be afraid of free agency. You don’t necessarily get a chance to pick exactly where you want to play because those teams might not come calling, but it’s a new opportunity and an ability to play with some different guys and be part of a new clubhouse you can make an impact in. It’s not something that should scare you. I took that to heart, and we just tried to find a place for 2-3 years that was going to be a good place for our family and somewhere I was going to win. I do think that with the new ballpark and the pitching staff we’ve been able to put together, we’re going to have all those abilities in Texas over the next few years.
Has it been comforting to have another Indiana guy in Texas with you in Lance Lynn?
KG: I’ve got to know Lance Lynn a lot from the time in Minnesota and now here in Texas. I never played against him but always knew who he was. I love telling the folklore of Lance Lynn to all our teammates that don’t necessarily know where Lance came from in high school and how good he was and how many people knew who he was in the game of baseball around Indiana. It’s a lot of fun playing next to him and seeing how he is away from the field as well. I know in the media he catches a lot of flack for being abrasive and a tough guy, but don’t tell him I told you, he’s kind of a softy and he’s a really nice guy when it comes to really caring about the people around him. Don’t let the beard and the short post-game answers fool you.
Signing with Texas keeps you in the American League. Did you consider moving over to the National League?
KG: I was definitely open to going to the National League. I love hitting and it’s something I always loved doing as a kid. I wasn’t nearly good enough to do it in college or anywhere near in the pros, but it’s something I was open to, but the right situation didn’t come up.
The Twins gave you an opportunity, brought you up through their system and they committed to you. How grateful are you for that experience?
KG: I’m extremely grateful. I got a chance when I signed with Texas to really say thank you and express that gratitude, but no matter how that ended with Minnesota, Elizabeth and I were extremely grateful for the time and opportunity they gave us and the support they gave us. Whether it was on the field or off the field or through the many endeavors we tried to accomplish up there, they were always supportive and always willing to be behind us no matter what 100 percent. We’re very thankful. It’s somewhere I’m looking forward to going back and being a visiting player. It will be different, but I’m looking forward to it.
You also had some playoff experience with the Twins. What was that like to compete in the playoffs?
KG: That was special. That was a season last year, and in 2017 in the wild card as well, where having a chance to get really close to building something was something I wanted to be part of my entire career. Last year, it was pretty emotional to be able to look around at the front office and the guys that I’d been around for nearly 10 years and those guys had done their best to build that type of a club to go around and share that moment with them and tell them thank you and be able to let them know how much that meant to me was a lot of fun. I hope it’s something Minnesota fans enjoyed and look forward to hopefully having more years ahead of them like that. It’s a lot of fun being in the playoff. It’s where you want to be.
Your illness led to some extreme weight loss, around 20-25 pounds. Do you feel that hindered you from a strength standpoint as the season went on in 2019?
KG: Yeah, I didn’t want to admit it, but as I look back and where I was going health wise and strength wise, I was just putting myself in a situation where I was going to do more harm than good, honestly. Thankfully, I didn’t get hurt and it didn’t come to that, but it was one of those things for a while where I was able to go out and still execute pitches, and maybe the results weren’t going my way, but I felt like I was still able to go out there and execute.
It was just a little bit of stubbornness in me. I wouldn’t say no to going out there. Part of it, also, was every five days, I was going through so much physically and not feeling good and when I took the mound it was actually the best I would feel all week. The adrenaline, the chemical release in the brain from the excitement and the butterflies and everything actually made my stomach feel better. For three hours, one out of five days, I felt normal again.
Strength wise, though, you’re right. I was 20 pounds down and nowhere near where I needed to be. And, ultimately when I went on the DL, that was the driving decision. At that point, I’m wasn’t doing anybody any good by not being my best out there, so it was time.
You were able to make the shift to the bullpen as a relief pitcher, though?
KG: Yeah, that was fun. It was different but fun. I enjoyed the life of a starter, being able to control the situation, but that was a lot of fun to be out there in a playoff game.
You’ve faced a lot of adversity in your career from Tommy John surgery, the demotion with Minnesota, your illness and having to rebuild yourself, how much does all that teach you about who you are as a professional and a person?
KG: I think it teaches us a lot. If you’re going through a tough time and you’re not learning about yourself, then you’re probably wasting that tough time. And if you get through that tough time and you haven’t grown, then you definitely wasted that time. I think that was something, going through what I had already gone through in my career, it probably prepared me mentally, spiritually in a lot of different ways for having to go through what I went through last year. It’s something that taught me how to persevere. It taught me how to make sure my priorities stay in line. It taught me to make sure I don’t lose sight of who I am and what my identity is, which I did in 2017 right before I got demoted. It taught me a lot.
As you sit back while you’re going through a tough time, if you can separate your emotions from the tough time and you can really let yourself think about what you’re going through and really figure out how you can become better, then you can turn that negative into a positive and into something that can be substantially different down the road.