The throng of doctors who suddenly entered the room was enough of a clue for Kyle Gibson to know something was wrong, that the birth of his first-born child had taken a turn. The rush led his wife, Elizabeth, into the operating room. It left Gibson by himself in the hallway, fear roiling through him, the unknowns all around.
Gibson fell to his knees.
Right there, in the hallway of Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Florida, Gibson prayed — for his wife, for his child, for their life together.
“I just knew, in 30 minutes or so, it was going to be possibly the worst day of my life or the best day of my life,” Gibson said.
Hours later, Gibson met Hayden for the first time.
Elizabeth was still in the recovery room, but Hayden had been moved to the neonatal intensive care unit. Their child had been without sufficient oxygen for about 20 minutes. She had no heartbeat when she was removed from Elizabeth during the emergency C-section. She was resuscitated and intubated within the first 40 seconds of her life, placed on a ventilator and wrapped in a cooling blanket to lower her body temperature. She received the lowest Apgar score — one, a designation that emphasized the dire situation in which Hayden found herself.
Still, as Gibson looked on during the spring of 2014, he saw his daughter beneath all those tubes. He didn’t know what the future might hold for any of them — be it a day, a week or a year — but he was a father for the first time.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the different emotions,” Gibson said.
Eight days later, Gibson and his wife walked out of the NICU carrying Hayden. At the time, a doctor who first underscored to Gibson the fragility of the position Hayden was in expressed his wonder at her rapid turnaround. She still wore a heart monitor for the first six months of her life and required frequent check-ins, but the uncertainty that gripped the first few days of her life eased.
In its place over the next nine years of life has been a budding family around Hayden, with baseball firmly in the middle. The Gibson family has grown to four children: Hayden (9), Mills (6), Rossilyn (3) and 6-month-old Novilee. All the while, they’ve watched their dad, Kyle, grow as a pitcher.
When Hayden was born nine years ago during spring training with the Minnesota Twins, Gibson would soon break camp as a member of the starting rotation for the first time. Now he’s a 35-year-old veteran with a World Series appearance under his belt. He’s a leader in a young Baltimore Orioles clubhouse.
But that’s his night job. In the hours between trips to the ballpark for work, Gibson is in father mode, and the terror that gripped the early hours of fatherhood with Hayden have melded into gratitude for each moment he spends with his children and his wife.
“We had a few extra things going on for our first one,” Gibson said. “But I was just so excited about being a dad that a lot of that thankfulness and excitement takes away some of that flood of being rushed with overwhelming feeling.”
Much of parenthood is about finding a routine that works for all parties involved, and as a starting pitcher, Gibson’s life has long revolved around routines. He arrives at the ballpark at 3 p.m. on the nights he starts; he studies batter tendencies on film and on Statcast; he goes over his plan of attack with his catcher; he throws long toss, then a bullpen, then finally takes the mound.
In the same vein, then, he and Elizabeth have carved out an at-home routine. She has a calendar book with each of the Orioles’ games written down, and she maps out Gibson’s likely starts for the rest of the season.
On long homestands, the family — which lives in St. Louis — joins Gibson in Baltimore. For select road trips, the Gibsons join the Orioles in a city they wish to show their kids.
“The kids are troopers when it comes to jumping on planes or getting in the car to make a drive,” Elizabeth Gibson said. “They really are adaptable. They also are learning that we can’t be at every game of Dad’s.”
“She’s really good at logistics,” Kyle Gibson added. “She’s really good at knowing where we need to be and how we need to get there. Without that, we’d be a mess.”
Sleep is an important part of Gibson’s pre-start routine, and he and Elizabeth mapped out a schedule that works for them early in Hayden’s time at home.
None of their four children were particularly adept at sleeping through the night. Which parent gets out of bed to check on them depends on the order of Baltimore’s pitching schedule.
“You see three or four nights in a row where your wife’s not sleeping and you’re sort of like, ‘OK, how can I help here?’” Gibson said. “The night that I pitched and then the next night, I would be on Hayden duty.”
And if he needs it, Elizabeth and the kids head to play in the basement or at a park nearby, leaving a quiet house for their dad to sleep in a little while longer on a day he’s supposed to start. So far this season, Gibson has seen his children two at a time more frequently than all at once, because they’re beginning to have their own lives away from trips to the ballpark with Dad.
Hayden is in dance, and Mills is playing baseball. Gibson is cognizant of not uprooting their lives in St. Louis to join him completely in the summer — and particularly when school is still in session. To make it all possible, Gibson credits his wife’s family and his own for their support. And he credits the makeup of his children, who aren’t fazed by the odd hours and grueling travel schedule their dad lives by.
When he’s not there, Gibson stays in contact daily through FaceTime calls or with encouraging messages, letting his kids know he’s thinking about their endeavors, just as they think of his. And on the rare off day, Gibson will fly home to St. Louis, even if it means he gets just 30 hours or so with his family. That short time is worth it.
“He is rooted in his relationship with Jesus and knows that baseball is a job,” Elizabeth said. “A job he loves, but there is so much more. He has always tried to leave everything on the field and then be a husband and father off the field.”
The few hours during the season Gibson has at home with the whole family are priceless. For as regimented as Gibson’s life is at the ballpark, he said the four or so hours he has with his family in the morning “are the most inconsistent hours of my day.”
There’s no knowing how one of his children slept the night before, the mood they’ll wake up in or what activity they’ll be longing to do.
When they arrive at their rental near Columbia, the mornings will involve trips to the neighborhood park or pool. Making breakfast is his specialty, so he’ll cook for his kids before he heads to the ballpark.
They’ll join him there, too. Earlier this season, Hayden and Mills accompanied him to Camden Yards, where Mills played hide and seek with his dad around the Orioles clubhouse. He joined Gibson in the outfield before a game and tried to hit underhand-tossed pitches. Their 3-year-old Rossilyn is now at an age where she’ll start remembering the family playrooms in the depths of stadiums around the league.
“I feel like my favorite thing is in the playroom, they’re constantly around kids who are from different backgrounds and don’t look like them,” Gibson said. “And I know that might sound silly, but we try to raise our kids in a way to love everybody. We feel like the more they’re around people who speak Spanish, or if we have Asian teammates, the more we’re around people who are from a different background and live life differently, I think they’re going to be better for it. Getting to bring them on the field is great, but it’s the life lessons we really try to teach them.”
While pitching in college at Missouri, Gibson quickly learned that allowing himself to fixate on a bad outing once he left the field was a drain on more people than himself. His parents would follow him around the country to watch him play, and it was a waste of their time, he said, so he learned to separate his pitching from his personal life.
When he gets home from a poor outing now, Hayden might emphasize the positives, how his final inning, at least, went according to plan. He’ll laugh, then push the performance from his mind.
He gets to be a baseball player most of the time. Being a dad, however, is Gibson’s true passion.
“He never wastes time being upset once he leaves the field,” Elizabeth said. “He knows how much he is missing right now, so he always makes the most of the time we have together.”