Today, Michigan State freshman Cam Gibson gets to experience his first taste of playing rival Michigan at McLane Stadium. And his father, Kirk, gave him some advice for what to expect come first pitch at 3:05 p.m.
“He talks about how you’re gonna have a lot of fun,” Cam said. “You gotta fight through a lot of people yelling at you, you’re gonna have a lot of adrenaline rushing through you, you gotta settle down, go up to the plate and do what you gotta do, go in the field and don’t get too antsy, you gotta catch the ball before you throw the ball.
“He tells me it’s gonna be fun but it’s gonna be tough. I know that.”
Today’s game (and Sunday’s)will be televised on the Big Ten Network, and audio will be available streaming for free at SpartanSportsNetwork.com.
Playing with his father’s legacy looming and his retired number hanging on the right-field always will be there for Cam. Living up to the accomplishments of the father is something that MSU baseball coach Jake Boss Jr. has talked a lot about with his freshman outfielder. And he knows a little something about that – his father, Jake Sr. is a legendary area high school coach who served as a volunteer assistant for MSU through last season.
“I understand a little bit about what that last name is and kind of the expectations that go along with that. When you screw something up, obviously who you represent and who you’re affiliated with is gonna come up,” Jake Jr. said. “We’ve talk about that a lot. I just told him, ‘I want you to be Cam Gibson, I don’t want you to be Kirk’s son. At the same time, you are Kirk’s son and you have to understand that the way you do things is going to reflect on your dad and your family.’
“He’s handled it great. He’s a fun-loving kid, he plays harder than maybe anybody that I’ve ever coached. And he plays the game the right way.”
That last part would please Kirk, who spent 17 years in the major leagues as a player and is beginning his third full season as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks after starring in football and baseball at MSU. He wants his son to be treated just like any other player on Boss’ roster.
“In my mind, I wanted Cam to do whatever he wants to do. I didn’t want him to go to Michigan State because I went there, I didn’t want him to feel any pressure to do that.,” Kirk told me recently. “I wanted him to go to a place where he wanted to play baseball at and get a college education and where he wanted to be happy. It wasn’t a requirement.
“He spent a lot of time up there at Michigan State as a young child, so that’s kind of where it was ingrained. It was his decision. I was for him if he wanted to go somewhere else as well – but I certainly I wouldn’t be discouraged by the fact he wanted to go there.”
Boss said nepotism plays no factor in Cam getting on the field so quickly in his first season. It’s purely about his speed and hitting ability, not Kirk’s.
“I was very straightforward. I sat down and told them, ‘I don’t care who your dad is,’” Boss said. “I think (Cam) was looking for something like that. I think that meant a lot to him. But at the same time, I meant it. He’s not gonna play because of who his dad is. Everything is gonna have to be earned here. And that’s the type of kid that he is. He’s gonna see a challenge and tackle it head-on.”
Where Kirk generally is considered one of the more serious and hard-nosed MSU products ever, Cam possesses some playful qualities about him. His at-bat walk-up music caught me off-guard on Tuesday – Queen’s “Flash” from the movie Flash Gordon. It’s a perfect fit for a leadoff hitter.
“You’re first up for your team and you hear that, ‘Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum’ – that gets your blood pumping pretty hard right there. I’m going, ‘Oh, I’m ready, I’m ready,’” Cam said. “And then when he goes, ‘FLASH!’ it’s just like, OK, all right, it’s time. When it gets to ‘FLASH!’ I’m ready to go.”
Take this exchange with his road roommate, senior outfielder Jordan Keur.
Keur: “He’s a character. He’s outgoing, I’ll say that. He definitely does some weird stuff.”
“The first time we were in the room together, the first trip, he takes all four of his pillows and puts two here, two here, all down the bed. It’s like a fort. So when he rolls over, he’s got a pillow on every side.”
Gibson: “When I roll over, I want to have a pillow.”
Keur: “That’s him. One time I walked into the room and he did a flip off the wall onto his bed. I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’”
Obviously, baseball has been a big part of Cam’s life since birth with his father’s playing and coaching career. Because of that, Kirk hasn’t been around much during Cam’s baseball seasons because of the travel and overlap with his job.
Last summer, when Cam was graduating from Grosse Pointe South High, much was made nationally about Kirk not going and what he told reporters were his reasons: “You’re supposed to graduate. His mom and the rest of the family will be there. He’s coming to see me next week.”
To some, it came off as gruff and uncaring toward his youngest of four kids. But Cam was well aware of it and has been around the game to know that’s the deal, and he took to Twitter later to defend his father’s decision.
I told Kirk that I chuckled at that whole ordeal, simply because most around here who’ve known Gibson for a long time thought the quote really fit who he is. I also jokingly asked him if he’d come to MSU when Cam graduates. He told me I was “getting the cart ahead of the horse,” then gave me some good backstory beyond what was first reported.
“I didn’t think it was funny, that’s just how I was brought up. I was brought up in a very strict and disciplined family – we made commitments and we kept them. People are different you could say. I have a job to do and a responsibility here. I’ve missed a lot of things throughout my life due to my job, due to my profession. Part of what I do is because of my love of the game and competition. The huge part of it is because I have a responsibility to my family to provide for them. I take things very seriously in what I do. I guess some people might laugh at it. On the other hand, I guess I look at it as a lesson for my whole family.
“The thing they didn’t write about is the fact that I was gonna be home in a week or 10 days, or shortly after that, because we had All-Star break. We had a great family get-together and a nice graduation party for him. But because I didn’t go – I mean, if you look at the logistics of flying from wherever I was at the time, I think it was Arizona, to go see a graduation where he’s gonna walk across a stage for 30 seconds and then to get on a plane to fly back, in my mind, just wasn’t the right thing to do.”
Boss said Kirk calls to check in every once in a while, but they primarily talk about baseball and not Cam. Kirk said family always remains important to him – it’s “family-first” but in a way that few outside of the baseball world might understand.
Along with the physical resemblance and ability, Cam gets that strong sense of family from him as well. He knows his father might never get a chance to see him play college baseball. It’s part of the deal, they all get it. But his dad isn’t eve the person he wants most to see him play at McLane Stadium.
“I’m just excited for when my dad’s mom, my grandmother, gets to sit in the stands and watch another No. 30 in her bloodline run out onto the field for Michigan State.”
Like father, like son.