COLUMBIA — It’s the question every major league baseball player gets asked.
“How’d you make it to the big leagues?”
For Missouri pitcher Kyle Gibson, who is projected to be chosen in the first half of the Major League Baseball Draft on June 9, it has been a matter of good fortune and hard work.
Too often people sit on the set of Oprah and tell the story of how they went from nothing to everything. According to the Malcom Gladwell best seller "Outliers," that’s just not true. People just don’t come from nowhere. Gibson, who grew up in Greenfield, Ind., went through a lot as he changed from a tall skinny kid into Missouri’s ace, an all-American and a pitcher scouts point their radar guns at every weekend.
Kyle Gibson isn’t spoiled and he isn’t a prima donna. He has a care-free attitude and there is always a smile on his face. Gibson knows he has been given a gift. He has been given the tools to become a success and he’s used them.
Gibson’s journey started when his father, Harold Gibson, decided to start a competitive, traveling baseball team when Kyle was 8. There wasn’t such a team in Greenfield, so Harold Gibson pooled his money with some friends, bought 20 acres of land and built an indoor complex and four baseball fields. The Indiana Bandits were a place for his son to grow into the baseball player that he always told his parents he wanted to be.
“I was just blessed by God to have great parents,” Kyle Gibson said. “They were able to give me everything I need to play baseball.”
Thanks to his father's baseball complex, Kyle Gibson could play baseball as often as he wanted.
“I lived probably three miles from the baseball complex. I would go out there three or four nights a week,” Kyle Gibson said. “I like to think that my dad and the other guys who started it were an influence on the entire state of Indiana because now there’s a lot of good teams that have a lot of good players “Every year it seems like there’s more an more kids who get drafted out of Indiana.”
Earlier this season, the parking lot at Taylor Stadium was overflowing with cars with license plates from Indiana. It wasn’t a Gibson family reunion. The Bandits were playing in a tournament in Columbia and the team had come to see a former player.
After playing summers with the Bandits, Gibson spent three summers while he was in high school at the IMG Institute, a sports performance facility in Bradenton, Fla., that trains athletes to perform at an elite level.
“(My parents) were able to afford to let me to go to Florida and let me play summer baseball which helped me out just as much as anything,” Gibson said.
Other notable alumni of the IMG institute include the Texas Rangers Josh Hamilton and Adam Dunn of the Washington Nationals.
It was at IMG during the summer before his senior year of high school that Harold Gibson said everything clicked thanks to an opportunity that opened up for his son. That summer's college camp didn’t have enough pitchers to field all of its teams. So skinny, tall Kyle Gibson was given the chance to to take the mound against hitters a lot older and more physically mature than he was.
“It was a two-month summer league that we played 40 games," Kyle Gibson said. “I was a 17-year-old kid throwing against college kids. It gave me a taste of what college ball was going to be like. Learning how to throw against (college players) and get those guys out definitely helped me out.”
The main thing Kyle Gibson struggled with while he was in high school was being consistent on the mound. He had difficulty repeating the same pitching motion from batter to batter, until he got some help from IMG coach Drew Thomas, whom Gibson developed a close relationship with.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Gibson said. “He knows what it means to be a winner.”
Thomas had Gibson field a ground ball from shortstop and throw it to first base.
“When I did, he said that’s how you have to throw from the mound, that’s the best way your arm works,” Gibson said. “Take the feeling you have from your arm from shortstop and take it to the mound.”
Kyle Gibson has also experienced failure, though. So recently that the memory still shakes Gibson up.
Towards the end of the Tigers' season last year, Gibson was moved from starting pitcher to closer for the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA regional in Miami. Missouri first baseman Steve Gray had just hit a game-tying two-run home run against the No. 1 team in the country, Miami. In came the new closer, the best relief pitcher in the bullpen, Gibson.
He got the first out, then let three straight batters reach base and the Hurricanes took the lead. Missouri didn’t score in the top of the ninth inning and Gibson took the loss.
If Missouri had won that game, it would have been a win away from winning the regional. The next day, Gibson again took the loss in a defeat that eliminated the Tigers.
But overall, there has been success. This season, Gibson has been one of the most dominating pitchers in college baseball. is 10-3 with a 3.47 ERA. He has struck out 123 batters in 98 2/3 innings while only walking 18. Baseball America recently named Gibson the No. 4 overall prospect in the draft, and on Thursday, he was named seccond team on the Louisville Slugger All-America squad.
"He was so talented to begin with, that he was thrown into every situation possible," Tigers pitching coach Tony Vitello said. "He wants to do great in everything he does from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to bed."
In a few weeks, Gibson will have the opportunity to be a millionaire. For now, he just wants to help Missouri advance in the NCAA baseball tournament and this weekend he will take the mound for the Tigers Missouri in an NCAA regional in Oxford, Ms.
“It’s been a pretty good journey for me,” “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”