By STEVE KRAH
Mixing a power slider, curve and fastball, Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson pitched seven shutout innings Tuesday, May 29 in Kansas City.
The 6-foot-6 native of Greenfield, Ind., recorded a no-decision while lowering his 2018 season earned run average to 3.57.
According to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, Gibson went to a three-ball count on just three of 27 batters faced with getting a first-pitch strike on 16 of them on his way to eight strikeouts and one walk. He surrendered five hits (three singles).
The former University of Missouri hurler was making his 16th career start against the KC Royals.
He has been one of the best swing-and-miss men in baseball. Some call it the “whiff” factor.
One source says he has Major League Baseball’s No. 1 slider and No. 3 curve.
Harold Gibson, Kyle’s father, made the trek from Greenfield to Kauffman Stadium see his son pitch.
That’s not far from where Harold took a brand-new Indiana Bandits 10U select team back in the mid-90’s.
“Kansas City is kind of where it started,” says Harold Gibson. “We started our first team when Kyle was 8 and his cousin (Austin Gibson) was 7. Little did we know what were were getting into.”
The Bandits went to a tournament at the Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee, Kan., essentially a suburb of KC.
Even though they lost every game by the 10-run rule, Harold and Sharon Gibson and the other adults were impressed with how they were treated and the passion for the game and knew they would come back.
They were also were sure they had made the right decision in breaking away from the local youth league.
“What an experience,” says Harold. “Our kids loved it.”
Not that the bold move was easy.
Little League had strict boundaries back then. Select teams were not allowed to use their their players, facilities and or play against any of their teams.
At that time, Gibson and company knew of no select teams in Indiana younger than age 13.
“We were taking a chance,” says Harold, who took the knowledge he learned from former Greenfield-Central High School coach Terry Fox (now athletic director at Indianapolis Cathedral) while serving on his coaching staff in the late ’80s and early ’90s and applied it to younger players, including his son and nephew. “God has a huge hand in all of this, but I also give a lot of credit to Terry. I learned so much about coaching from him. I can’t thank him enough.”
That first year, the Bandits played almost 50 games. The next year, they got into the Southwest Ohio League — the third-biggest select circuit in the country. The Indiana boys traveled to Cincinnati and league teams came to Greenfield.
Along the way, the Bandits went about building a training facility and held mandatory workouts up to five nights a week.
Practice was the priority and not playing games.
“It’s not the kids’ fault, but they’re just not learning,” says Harold. “Kids need to learn to pitch and catch. They need to learn the mental part of the game.
“We (must) have coaches that know how to teach it. Playing it the right way is the most fun for everyone.”
By the time Harold stepped away from the organization a decade ago, there were around 18 teams.
Fast forward to the present day, where Kyle Gibson is 30 and has 138 games of big league experience — all as a starter.
Harold has seen his son continue to hone his craft and gain confidence against major league batters.
“It’s all that maturation process, learning what it takes to set up hitters,” says Harold. “It’s making adjustments in games.
“They’ve told him all along to trust his stuff. I don’t think you know the full meaning of that until you throw it up there and guys miss it.
“Last year, he figured out that his fastball is good enough to get guys out. A player has to figure out if his stuff will play (in the majors).”
Kyle Gibson figured out that if he could command his fastball, it would make his breaking pitches more effective.
The big righty was throwing almost every pitch down in the zone. But has started enjoying success using the upper part and having his slider stay in the zone longer.
“Last year, Kyle had one of the best rates of swinging at balls out of the zone,” says Harold. “Consequently, hitters were going up there and just taking.”
Having Lance Lynn (who is slated to start Saturday, June 2) as a rotation mate has also helped.
The former Brownsburg High School standout throws about four different fastballs with differing speeds.
“Throwing a 93 mph fastball all the time, that’s the wrong thing to do,” says Harold.
After coaching Greenfield-Central’s junior varsity and helping establish off-season pitching workouts and in-season practice planning, Harold decided to step away at the end of the 2018 season.
Harold tries to attend Kyle’s starts when it’s within a drive of 10 or so hours (his son’s next turn is Sunday against Cleveland in Minneapolis and there’s a chance to see Kyle’s wife Elizabeth and daughter Hayden).
But with work and also having grandchildren in Louisville (Kyle’s older sister Holly lives there), it’s not always possible for Harold or his wife to be there in-person.
Kyle Gibson (left) and father Harold Gibson meet up in Baltimore early in the 2018 season. Kyle is a pitcher in Minnesota’s staring rotation. Harold traveled from his home in Greenfield, Ind.