PHILADELPHIA — Inside the spring training clubhouse in Clearwater, Florida, Kyle Gibson suddenly realized they were talking about him.
The veteran starter, who in February 2022 entered his first spring training with the Phillies, wasn’t used to being the new guy. But after a midseason trade brought him from the Texas Rangers to Philadelphia, Gibson was one of the relative newcomers asked to stand and tell the clubhouse a fun fact about himself.
He still remembers what he said.
Gibson has scoliosis, and he told the assembled room full of Major League Baseball stars and up-and-comers alike a little-known fact about himself. At one point in fifth grade, he said, he wore a back brace, braces, headgear and glasses.
“I said, ‘If I can make it to the big leagues, you guys can, too. Keep your head up,’” Gibson recalled.
It’s that sort of honesty and disarming self-deprecating humor that made an immediate impression on so many within the Phillies organization, and it was especially apparent on Gibson’s return to Citizens Bank Park as a member of the Orioles on Monday.
A steady stream of former teammates made their way to Gibson. He laughed with coaches, hugged stadium staff, and said hello to Kyle Schwarber’s wife and child. And before Monday’s game, Gibson received a ring for his efforts in propelling the Phillies toward a National League championship — a physical reminder of all the relationships he formed during his one full season in Philadelphia.
“Over the last year, just the depth of those relationships was really cool,” Gibson said. “Keep up with a lot of those guys, and to catch up in person is really special.”
Gibson arrives in Philadelphia as part of a clubhouse that reminds him plenty of what he enjoyed with the Phillies. The Orioles are in first place in the American League East, in the driver’s seat for a playoff push as the season progresses.
But the correlation doesn’t have as much to do with the record or potential to play into October as it does with the roster makeup. Philadelphia went out and assembled what Gibson describes as a super team — Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and J.T. Realmuto, among others, will do that.
The Orioles are on their way there, Gibson said. With catcher Adley Rutschman, infielder Gunnar Henderson and more, the superstars are in the making.
“In four years, Gunnar might have three All-Star Games. Adley might have three more All-Star Games. You’re going to have multiple pitchers on the mound who are going to be in the Top 20 in Cy Young,” Gibson said. “Now, a lot of these guys are still considered prospects. Those guys [on the Phillies] are considered established studs. These guys in three years, they’re obviously going to lose prospect status, and people around the league are going to say, ‘Hey, let’s go watch the Orioles tonight because they’re coming into town and they’ve got Adley, Gunnar, this guy, this guy, this guy.’”
That’s all to come. In the present, Gibson will enjoy his return to Citizens Bank Park and remember all the lively memories made on the way to a World Series appearance. He’ll hope Baltimore can turn a strong season so far into something more.
And he’ll have a keepsake — one of the few bits of memorabilia he retains — to look back on fondly when his baseball days are all over.
“It’s just like a photo; you want to be able to look back and remember those things,” Gibson said. “This is going to be one of those pieces. You put it in a special spot, and whether Hayden, Mills, Rossilyn and Novilee ask about it, whatever. Even if they don’t, when I’m 50 years old and my kids are all in college, I’ll be sitting there with Elizabeth and say, ‘That year was pretty fun, huh?’”