By STEVE KRAH
Somewhere out there is a power-packing hitter or lights-out pitcher and Mike Gibbons aims to find him and secure his services for his bosses.
Gibbons is an area scout for the New York Yankees and annually spends up to 40,000 ground miles and more in the air, assessing amateur players in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky that might be suitable to don Yankee pinstripes.
Lessons learned as a coach at the University of Notre Dame and Ball State University have helped carry the South Bend native through 23 years of hunting for potential professional baseball talent.
in this profession, it’s a grind.
“It’s everyday,” says Gibbons, 52. “You’ve got to be self-motivated. You’ve got to get up and get your work done and stay on top of it. You either have the passion for it or you don’t.”
Gibbons, who lives in the suburbs of Cincinnati, is often on the go trying to land players for the 27-time world champions.
“Things have changed a lot over 23 years,” says Gibbons, who scouted for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1995-2002 and started with the Yankees in 2003. “There’s not a whole lot of off-season anymore. There are showcases galore. You can find one every weekend if you want. College scout days run deeper into the fall and a lot of home visits with college and high school players. Then it’s Christmas.
“We have (scouting) meetings in January then we’re outside watching colleges scrimmage in early February.”
Early in the season, Gibbons has learned to do more flying and goes to warm weather. Last February, he saw Notre Dame play in San Diego and tends to spend a week to 10 days on the West Coast every year.
“You can go wherever you want to see your teams play,” says Gibbons. “As long you’re getting your work done.”
When college teams return to the Midwest and high schools open their seasons, Gibbons is really hopping.
He might be in northern Indiana checking out a high school pitcher on a Tuesday and then be in Kentucky Wednesday looking at a college hitter.
“You have to juggle your schedule and prioritize,” says Gibbons. “Your car is your office.”
A lot of what he does in the spring is dictated by the elements.
“You get a three- or four-day run in Michigan where the weather is nice, you better get up there,” says Gibbons. “You spend a lot of time watching the Weather Channel and looking at the apps on your phone.”
Gibbons knows there’s only so many days in the spring. That’s why so many schools have opted for artificial turf that helps them lower the number of rainouts.
The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft comes is scheduled for June 4-6. The Yankees currently have the 23rd pick in the first of 40 rounds. The Detroit Tigers have the No. 1 selection.
“The draft is such a crap shoot,” says Gibbons. “You have to get really lucky to get players in the draft. Some years your area is deep and you don’t get many guys. In other years, your area is not very deep and you end up getting two or three guys.”
Once Gibbons identifies a potential draftee, the national cross-checker and the scouting director take a look and they are comparing these players from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky to those all over the nation.
“It’s a big country,” says Gibbons. “There’s good players everywhere. Your bosses have to see these kids play well.
“(The scouting director and cross-checker) are focusing on the top part of the draft — the top five or 10 rounds,” says Gibbons. “Not somebody we might be able to sign in the 21st round.”
It’s up to Gibbons to have enough visits with the player, his family and agent to know how likely it is that the Yankees can get his name on a contract.
“You’re not going to draft kids in top 10 rounds you are going to have a tough time signing,” says Gibbons. “With the (slotting) rules now, you lose the money if you can’t sign the kid in the first 10 rounds.”
Slotting rules allow so much to be spent in certain rounds and that takes out much of the negotiating of the past.
“It’s pretty clear,” says Gibbons. “Here’s the slot and here’s what it’s paying. Can we get this done or not?”
In the summer and fall, Gibbons has places he likes to go. He sees top college players in the Cape Cod League and elite high school prospects in the East Coast Pro (which moves to in Hoover, Ala., in 2018), Perfect Game World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, Fla., and national teams at USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, N.C.
Gibbons enjoys maintaining relationships with players after become pros.
“Old scouts back in the day would say, ‘sign ‘em and forget ‘em.’ I don’t necessarily agree with that,” says Gibbons. “I will text with (former New Albany High School and University of Louisville left-hander) Josh Rogers after his outings. You can’t help but love these kids and pull for them. You want them to do well.
“I don’t try to blow these kids up too much. But you just get to the big leagues with somebody.”
And he’s grateful to be working for the Yankees.
“I enjoy what I’m doing,” says Gibbons. “It’s an honor to work for arguably the best franchise in the history of sports. It’s an exciting time for us with all the young players coming up. Guys we drafted and developed and are now helping us win.”
Gibbons played at South Bend St. Joseph High School for Chip O’Neil, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.
“When you’re that age you don’t understand coaching, you don’t understand how good the guy was,” says Gibbons, who graduated St. Joe in 1983. “He was great.”
Gibbons, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, pitched well enough for O’Neil and the Indians to go to Miami Dade South Junior College (now Miami Dade College) in Florida, where he played in 1984 and 1985 and was coached by Charlie Greene.
“He was terrific,” says Gibbons of Greene, who was a pitching coach in the New York Mets system and an author of books on pitching. “I had arm problems in high school. I was fortunate to play for a guy like Charlie.”
In those days, NCAA Division I teams could play an unlimited amount of fall games and Dade South played often against the University of Miami. Gibbons impressed enough for the Hurricanes to offer him a scholarship.
When Gibbons joined Miami for the 1986 season, coach Ron Fraser and the ‘Canes had just won the College World Series.
What was it about Fraser, the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer?
“His personality,” says Gibbons, who played two seasons at Miami. “He didn’t do a ton of coaching. He left that to Brad Kelley and his other assistants. He was figurehead. He was good in the community and with fundraising. They loved him.”
Gibbons went undrafted and landed with the independent Salt Lake City Trappers in the rookie-level Pioneer League. He went 1-3 with eight saves and a 0.82 earned run average in 26 appearances (all in relief) in 1988.
Salt Lake City is where Mike’s father, Jim Gibbons, had played in 1953 with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Class C affiliate.
Jim Gibbons would go on to manage in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization then serve in many capacities at Notre Dame, including assistant baseball and basketball coach. The 1953 ND graduate helped recruit future Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to campus as well as future pro baseball and basketball player and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ron Reed and ND president Edward “Monk” Malloy.
Jim Gibbons, who was on the baseball staff of Jake Kline, would be Notre Dame’s Assistant Vice President for Special Events and Protocol for 37 years.
Dan Duquette signed Mike Gibbons for the Montreal Expos and the pitcher was sent to Rockford, Ill., for the 1989 season, where he was 3-2 with two saves and a 1.76 ERA in 40 games against Low Class-A Midwest League competition.
Traded from the Expos to the Chicago White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft. Gibbons was going to be assigned to the Midwest League’s South Bend White Sox in 1990. Rather than repeat levels and pitch in his hometown, he went into coaching and joined the Notre Dame staff of Pat Murphy.
“From Murph and my dad, I learned about work ethic and how much you have to put into coaching,” says Gibbons. “I’m 22 or 23 years old myself and dealing with really intelligent guys at Notre Dame. I jumped in with both feet and was very committed. It was a lot of responsibility. It taught me some of the lessons I carry with me today.”
After his stint under the Golden Dome, Gibbons spent one season and part of another at Ball State. Pat Quinn was then the Cardinals head coach.
One of Gibbons’ roommates at Miami was Greg Vaughn, who had gone on to be a slugger for 15 seasons in the big leagues and about half of those were in Milwaukee. He helped Gibbons get an interview with the Brewers and a start to his scouting career.
Mike is married to Mary Beth. The couple have two children — Tyler and Olivia.
Tyler Gibbons played at NCAA Division III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and is now with the Cincinnati Reds as video coordinator for amateur scouting. The job will have him traveling the country, capturing players on video and writing reports.
Olivia is a high school senior. She is looking into medical school and possibility of playing college volleyball.