Detroit Tigers' Cam Gibson a throwback to the old days. The days of his dad
LAKELAND, Fla. — When Luke Sherley, a shortstop in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system, finished taking batting practice on the back fields at Tiger Town, Cam Gibson couldn’t help himself.
Gibson blurted out: “Surely, you can’t be serious!”
Then again, Gibson seems to be from another time, quoting lines from the 1980 classic, “Airplane,” while surrounded by a bunch of minor league players who are all too young to know any of them.
“Nobody else understands it,” Gibson said. “I don’t care. I think it’s funny as hell.”
Over several days, I watched Gibson, the son of Tigers’ great Kirk Gibson, play or practice several times on the backfields, and here is my report: He’s fast as heck, as fiery and competitive as his father and freakin’ hilarious, making non-stop one-liners and talking constantly.
“I love movies,” he said. “I just put those into my baseball world and there is positivity added into my game. That’s a little trick I like to use.”
But on Monday afternoon, he moved to the big stage. Gibson ran to left field at Publix Field in Joker Marchant Stadium, starting his first spring training game for the Tigers.
Music blared over the loud speakers.
“Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘N Roses.
Gibby — yes, everybody calls him Gibby — checked the sun, which had just popped out from behind a cloud, and he wore his uniform a particular way, looking like he had just escaped from the 1970s.
“Cam is a very 1970s oriented person,” Kirk Robert Gibson, Cam’s older brother, said.
He likes Led Zeppelin and he dresses like he’s in the movie, "Dazed and Confused." He wears really tight pants, stirrups, no batting gloves. He kind of has a vintage mindset. It’s like he wants to bring baseball back to the glory days.
Back to the days when his father was playing for the Tigers.
But on this day, Kirk Gibson was up in the TV booth, calling the game on Fox Sports Detroit. And I was down the third base line, watching Cam warm up, while listening to the broadcast on headphones.
Surreal, to say the least.
JoAnn Gibson, Cam’s mother, sat behind home plate, nervous as heck.
“Exciting and nerve racking,” she said.
"No, I’ve been nervous lots of times."
Years ago, JoAnn sat at this same park, watching Kirk play.
But this was so much harder for her.
“Kid versus husband?” she said. “When it’s your kid, you are just more nervous. I wasn’t really nervous for Kirk, it’s weird.”
Gibson started the game next to Mikie Mahtook in center field and Nicholas Castellanos playing in right.
“It was really fun to start, getting in the outfield with Mikie and Nick,” Gibson said. “Nick is always a really good time. We sit and we talk for quite a while all the time. Watching Miggy (Miguel Cabrera) do his stuff out there, he’s a really good guy. He’s a good vet to be around. You can tell he has a lot of fun playing the game, and it’s really fun to be around.”
Young vs. Old
Before Gibson’s first at bat, Tigers general manger Al Avila was in the TV booth.
Announcer Matt Shepard asked Gibson: “Are you nervous?”
And Avila, who went through this with own son Alex, responded: “Keep it inside.”
The whole scene played out like an homage to 1984.
Alan Trammell, one of Kirk Gibson’s former teammates, was coaching first base.
And a few hours earlier, Lou Whitaker stopped into the press box, looking for Gibson.
“Is Gibby in there?” he asked.
“His son is gonna play today,” I said.
“I remember he when he was like this,” Whitaker said, holding his hand about knee high.
Jim Schmakel, the longtime Tigers’ clubhouse manager, actually remembers Cam even longer.
“Needless to say, I was around when Cam was born,” Schmakel said. “I’ve known Cam forever.”
“Was he a kid who was always around?” I asked.
“No, Sparky (Anderson) didn’t allow them in the clubhouse,” Schmakel said. “We are all just pulling for him.”
And then there was former Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who has an interesting perspective on Old Gibby and Young Gibby, considering he once coached Kirk in the minor leagues.
“Cam can run, he doesn’t run as good as Gibby did,” Jim Leyland said. “I like Cam. I like him a lot. The biggest similarities are their competitive nature.”
Rough day at the park
Before his second at bat, Shepard said: “Let’s see if Cam Gibson can get the Tigers started with a two-out rally here.”
“I agree,” Kirk Gibson said. “Let’s get it going.”
“Gibson, a fifth-round draft pick out of Michigan State,” Shepard said.
“The ball really moved off the body,” Gibson said. “He didn’t see that pitch at Michigan State, by the way.”
At one point during the broadcast, the camera focused on Gibson’s wife.
“So we know dad is calm and easy,” Shepard said. “How’s your wife doing?”
“She doesn’t look too calm to me,” Gibson said. “I’d like to see her smile. Come on.”
“She doesn’t look nervous,” Shepard said. “She’s been through it plenty of times, through all your kids.”
Cam ground out, into a shift.
“They had him played perfectly,” Shepard said. “The Tigers go one, two, three in the fifth.”
Gibson finished the day hitless in three at bats. He left the field and talked to his mother and father, and signed some autographs.
“I feel pretty comfortable,” Gibson said afterward. “I’m feeling pretty good.”
Gibson, 25, hit .250 last season at Double-A Erie.
And his brother cut right to the chase. There is no subtly in the Gibson family.
“I want hits,” Kirk Robert Gibson said. “But I kind of have some deja vu sometimes, watching him. I think I’m the only one who is old enough to have seen my dad play. The biggest thing is, we want him to have fun. Get dirty. And barrel up the ball every now and then.”
Surely, the hits will come.
There’s no reason to become alarmed.
“And we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?”
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.