YUKON — Left-handed pitcher Ryan Gibson jogged to the mound last summer during a prep showcase game at AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd and tears from his mother.
Fans didn’t cheer for his 90-plus mph fastball, or even his growing attraction to Division I college coaches and Major League Baseball scouts. They cheered instead for his heart and mental toughness, and more poignantly, something he no longer possessed — his father.
Gibson, now 17 and headed for major-college baseball or the major leagues, buried his father three days earlier. Dale Gibson died July 15 at age of 59 after suffering a heart attack June 8. He left behind his wife of 22 years, Celia, and three ball-playing boys — Ryan; Dustin, 16; and Kyle, 15 — whom he passionately nurtured on the baseball field and in life.
The elder Gibson shadowed his sons at practices and games, and often turned traveling tournaments into mini-family vacations. St. Louis, Fort Smith, Houston, San Antonio, Denver ... they went everywhere together as a family. Baseball provided the thread. Now, suddenly, he and his booming voice of support were gone like a gust of wind.
"That was tough,” admitted Gibson, a recent Yukon High School graduate whose blonde locks peek out from under his black baseball cap. "But, honestly, I felt him there with me when I was warming up in the bullpen and when I pitched.”
Gibson spent the last four days soaking up his last summer before college, while maintaining a mild interest in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft. The absence of his father provided a "bittersweet” setting. The Florida Marlins selected Gibson in the 48th round Thursday in the final hour of the three-day draft — a selection he humbly called "an honor.”
One National League scout told The Oklahoman
he expected Gibson to go between rounds 10 and 25, qualifying his projection by noting that teams were leery about the ability to sign the big lefty. Gibson received a full-scholarship to play for the University of Oklahoma in November, and he made no secret about his desire to pitch for the Sooners.
Nevertheless, he received home visits by Tigers, Padres, and Angels scouts. He also recently accepted an invitation to work out for the Dodgers along with some 30 other regional prospects in Dallas. Then there was the phone call from one American League scout on the eve of the draft. He wanted to know how much money it would take to lure Gibson into the professional ranks.
"A million dollars,” Gibson replied.
"A million dollars?” the scout repeated in frustration.
"I think the vibe definitely got out that Ryan was set on going to college,” Celia Gibson said. "We tried to be up front with everyone, because we didn’t want them wasting an early pick on a kid they might not be able to sign. Secretly, I think deep down Ryan wanted to stay close to home and be around the family after all we have gone through this past year.
"He’s still got blank forms from major league teams in his room that he never filled out.