COLUMBIA – In a world of what ifs, they could have been opponents in the World Series.
Instead, Missouri pitchers Brad Buehler and Kyle Gibson were teammates on the Gold squad of the Tigers' annual Fall World Series, an intrasquad three-game series for the baseball team. The Black team won the series Monday two games to one.
The Tampa Bay Rays selected Buehler in the 43rd round of the 2007 draft, and the Philadelphia Phillies chose Gibson in the 36th round of the 2006 draft.
“I didn’t really think about it until the Red Sox vs. Rays series,” Gibson said. “He was cheering for the Rays, and I asked him if he was a bandwagon fan. He said, ‘No, that’s the team that drafted me.’
“I don’t know if there’s another program in the country that has that.”
Gibson and Buehler watch the World Series at Gibson’s apartment with teammate Greg Folgia, a Phillies fan. This has given them an opportunity to joke with one another.
Buehler put Rays merchandise in Folgia’s locker as a prank, but Buehler receives some quips in return.
“Some of the guys will say, ‘Brad, great decision. You could’ve been on a World Series team,’” Gibson said.
Regardless of how well their potential teams are performing, MU pitching coach Tony Vitello said the two players made the right decision by forgoing professional baseball.
"Both of them needed to develop," he said. "It's cutthroat (in the minor leagues). We're going to invest innings and time to develop these two. Scouts always find players, so they'll discard you (if a player doesn't perform well)."
The two pitchers agree that playing for MU was a good decision.
Buehler drew the attention of a local Tampa Bay scout his senior year of high school at St. Pius X in Festus and participated in a Rays tryout in December 2006. Buehler said he was told the team was going to call to make an offer, but it never did.
“It would’ve been nice to have signed, but I feel like I’ve lengthened my baseball career,” Buehler said. “I was physically ready. I don’t think I was mentally ready. My coaches have helped a lot (in that area).”
He points to one of his worst moments in baseball as an example.
“Last year, every outing I was getting shelled,” Buehler said. “They told me to keep going. They taught me mental toughness.”
Vitello also lowered Buehler's arm angle on his delivery. This helped him gain velocity and movement on his pitches.
Unlike Buehler, the physical side of baseball was more of a problem for Gibson.
“I was 6-3, 170 coming out of high school,” he said. “Physically, I was not ready to play 140-150 games a year.”
Since arriving in the Missouri program, Gibson has grown three inches, added 30 pounds and grabbed the role of Friday night starter, which is usually reserved for a team’s best starting pitcher.
“Someone has to take the Friday night spot from him,” Vitello said. “Someone has to yank it from his claws.”
Gibson has spent the fall tightening his grip.
“This has been one of the best falls I’ve had since I was here,” he said. “Hopefully, they see me as a Friday night starter. I don’t want to leave any doubt in their minds.”
There is one thing that Vitello would like to see Gibson do.
“Kyle has to stop being results-oriented conscious,” he said. “In a game against KU last year (a 12-1 Missouri victory), he went out there to beat the opposing guy and rolled through seven innings. He needs to have that approach every day.”
It is only a matter of time for Vitello until these two players are at the major league level, maybe even in the World Series.
"I think they're both going to be in the big leagues," Vitello said. "I'm not just trying to pat those guys on the butt. I wouldn't have said that about Brad five months ago, but I see him coming out of a bullpen in a major league uniform.
"With Kyle, he could be a first or second round guy."