Former Chemeketa pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx called up to Texas Rangers
It's real, raw and emotional: After 12 seasons, Bibens-Dirkx fulfills MLB dream with Rangers call-up
SEATTLE -- Even in the gloom of a season heading toward disaster -- which is where the Rangers currently find themselves -- there are those rare feel-good moments.
Austin Bibens-Dirkx, the first major leaguer in history to have a "k" and "x" in sequence in his last name, created one of those Sunday when he walked through the clubhouse doors after 12 seasons in the minors. That was long before the bullpen, of which Bibens-Dirkx now finds himself a member, blew a three-run lead in a 4-3 loss to Seattle, but that's another story, and one probably told too often already this season.
A picture of Bibens-Dirkx welcome to the big leagues: His greeting from locker neighbor Andrew Cashner, who came up wearing nothing but a towel and a headband, gave him a bro-hug and a shouted, "First-timer; hell yeah!"
That said it about as well as anybody.
Well, almost anybody. Rangers manager Jeff Banister, who got all of four days -- and one at-bat -- in the majors, understands. He was in his sixth minor league season when that call came.
"When I had the chance to sign, my grandfather said 'You need to play for those who can remember when and for those who dream,'" Banister said Sunday. "For every minor leaguer who spends one day playing to dream about playing in the big leagues, that's what this is about. We see this story over and over again, and it never gets old. It's real, it's raw, and it's emotional. There are so many people that you carry with you along the way, you just can't put enough superlatives on the feeling that you have."
Bibens-Dirkx got the call Saturday morning at 7:30. He was asleep. But when he saw that Triple-A manager Jason Wood was calling him, he figured he better answer.
He must have thought he was still dreaming.
"It didn't even register at first," Bibens-Dirkx said. "[Wood] said 'This is a call I've wanted to make for some time.' It's your major league call-up."
They had talked often in the last two seasons about it. And so Wood bypassed any jokes about trades or releases, which is often how minor league managers start these calls about first call-ups. This meant too much to Bibens-Dirkx.
The Rangers are his fifth major league organization, and he's twice had to go to independent leagues to continue his career after clubs released him. He thought when Seattle released him at the end of spring training in 2009 after an elbow surgery and a drop in velocity that the dream, the one he'd had since he started practicing his signature at the age of 7, might just be dead. But he soldiered on, went to a handful of tryouts for clubs and landed in Victoria (British Columbia) in the independent Golden Baseball League before hooking back up with the Chicago Cubs. The Rangers signed him in June after he started the year in the independent Atlantic League.
He called his wife. She cried. He teared up. They just bought a house in Meridian, Miss. For however long he's in the majors, he'll earn more than the monthly mortgage: about $2,923 per day. In six days in the majors, he'll make what he was making per month in the minors. He will get on the major league pension plan, get increased insurance benefits and other auxiliary benefits.
From a practical standpoint, it truly is life changing.
That will sink in over time. Whether he makes it in the majors, making it to the majors changes things long term. But Sunday was about a day of dreams being realized.
On Sunday, the Oregon native who grew up near Portland, thought back to previous trips to Safeco Field. He came in 2001, during Cal Ripken's final trip in. Ripken had been one of his favorites. When Bibens-Dirkx went to the bathroom, a foul ball flew into the stands. His stepfather moved over into the empty seat and caught the ball.
"I was like, 'Really?'" Bibens-Dirx said Sunday with a smile.
He also remembered his last trip to Safeco, in June 2006. Seattle brought him in for a predraft bullpen session. Then the Mariners took him in the 16th round.
Three years later they released him.
It started his long journey. On Sunday, he finally arrived.
"I know this changes your life forever, which is awesome," Bibens-Dirx said. "But my biggest goal was to get here. My goals don't stop here, though. My goal is to be successful and be here as long as possible."
With the Rangers' bullpen in the shape that it is, he'll get a chance to realize that goal, too.