Ex-Victoria Seal Austin Bibens-Dirkx makes debut

After 1,488 minor league innings with 21 different clubs - including a stint in Victoria, B.C., 32-year-old right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx made his major league debut with the Texas Rangers earlier this month. Courtesy: MiLB.com

After 1,488 minor league innings with 21 different clubs - including a stint in Victoria, B.C., 32-year-old right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx made his major league debut with the Texas Rangers earlier this month. Courtesy: MiLB.com

By Andrew Hendriks

Canadian Baseball Network

1,488. 

That’s the number of professional innings Texas Rangers right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx pitched before making his big league debut earlier this month.

Since becoming a 16th-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2006, the 32-year-old hurler has taken the hill for no less than 21 different ball clubs while making the most of his many opportunities including stints with five separate Major League organizations, winters in Latin America and two tours of duty in independent ball. 

For those keeping track at home, that stretch of innings pitched accounts for a grand total of 406 games, 221 starts, 17 saves and countless bus trips over parts of the past 12 years.

So what kept the former Portland Pilots standout going over all those seasons in the minors? 

His answer is simple.

“It’s baseball, man."

Plucked from the independent Atlantic League's Lancaster Barnstormers after starting 10 games and posting a modest K/9 of 8.3 in 2016, the Rangers signed Bibens-Dirkx to a minor league deal and dispatched him to triple-A Round Rock last June. Pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, he responded to the Rangers' call by going 3-2 with an ERA of 4.34 over 12 starts. 

Having shown the Rangers enough to warrant another minor league contract for the 2017 campaign, the journeyman hurler entered spring training this February looking to make good on the recent vote of confidence he received from his fifth big league organization.

Benefitting from an extended spring due in part to the World Baseball Classic, Bibens-Dirkx appeared in six games with the Rangers down in Arizona, posting an overall ERA of 1.50 with seven strikeouts and only one free pass issued across an even six innings of work. 

During a time in which big league managers are often subjected to waves of upcoming talent, the minor league journeyman’s performance in the Cactus League this spring left a lasting impression on Rangers skipper, Jeff Banister.

“We had him over in spring training and got a really good look at the stuff and got to know the guy,” Banister told reporters earlier this month.  “He was willing to take the ball every time we gave it to him. One of the greatest assets he showed was the overall instincts and moxie to be able to get outs.”

That ability to get outs, coupled with a poised and experienced presence is what made Bibens-Dirkx the Rangers' first choice when needing to supplement their roster after optioning left-handed reliever Dairo Alvarez back to Round Rock on May 7. 

Poetically, the well-travelled rookie joined Texas for their final game of a lengthy road trip... in Seattle.

Despite missing a chance to pitch in the Sunday matinee, the former Mariners draft pick was thrilled to pull on a Major League uniform under the stands at Safeco Field. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better spot,” he said on Friday. “It would have been nice if it was a couple of days earlier but that’s all part of it. I had a lot of family and friends that were able to make it. (Seattle’s) about a four-hour drive from where I grew up. It’s definitely something that I’m going to remember”

Having pitched parts of three seasons within Toronto’s minor league system, perhaps Bibens-Dirkx will get that chance to face one of his former employers as the Rangers are set to square off against their American League Divisional Series foes this weekend at Rogers Centre. 

“Hopefully it will be an I told you so moment for me,” he said on Friday at Rogers Centre. “Pitching against your former organization, maybe there’s a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. Almost like I really want to do extra well in that situation.”

“Of course, I have a lot of other guys that I played with in the past few years on that other side. Friendships are going to have to be put aside because it’s a job and I have to get my job done. ” 

Although the three-game set will represent Bibens-Dirkx’s first opportunity to play under the lights in Toronto, it won’t be his first time playing pro ball in the Great White North.

After parting ways with the Cubs organization in 2009, the Oregon native made eight appearances with the Victoria Seals of the independent Golden Baseball League. Although his time out west was brief, it was an experience he calls memorable. 

“Playing over there in Victoria was beautiful. The people there... the fans, everything,” he said prior to the series opener at Rogers Centre. ”They were very generous and that’s one thing I’ll always remember about going there. “

Back in Canada for the first time in over six years, things aren't the same this time around. 

“The situation between the Rangers and the Jays is a little different,” he said with a laugh. “The rivalries weren’t as heated in Victoria.”

POSTSCRIPT

Bibens-Dirkx did, in fact, receive an opportunity to join in that rivalry as Rangers starter A.J. Griffin was forced to leave Friday’s game with an oblique injury with one out in the second inning. 

Establishing a variety of career highs in the Rangers' 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays, the 6-foot-1 righty fired four innings of three-run ball while striking out five and walking only one batter on 84 pitches.

- Follow Andrew Hendriks on Twitter (@77hendriks)

Andrew Hendriks

Born in southern Ontario during the late 1980's, Hendriks had a front row seat to watch the Blue Jays reach the pinnacle in '92/'93 as a child, an experience that only bolstered this Canadian's love for the "American Game." Having played since before his memory allows access too, his passion for Baseball grew over years of emulating his heroes on the local sandlots, memorizing the backs of chewing gum scented cards and travelling across North America to experience as many aspects of the game as possible. In 2009, Hendriks began volunteering at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a Weekend Tour Guide. By 2010, he was hired on to help curate for the museum & Instruct the fundamentals of the game along side such legends as Tony Fernandez, Roberto Alomar and Jim Fanning during the Hall's annual Kids On Deck program. Following the 2011 season, Hendriks began blogging and co-hosting a weekly podcast for www.BackInBlue.ca, a Blue Jays themed website ran by fans, for fans. Looking to continue connecting with baseball fans across the country, Hendriks is excited to join such a strong team at the Canadian Baseball Network and looks forward to chipping in.