A Spring Training awakening for Melbourne-born pitcher – Cameron Gibbens: Part 1

Cameron Gibbens in his LA Dodgers playing uniform at Minor League Spring Training (Source: Cameron Gibbens Instagram)

Five months after signing a professional contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers organisation, 25-year-old Cameron Gibbens was forced to wait a little longer for his baseball career in the United States to truly begin as the global pandemic took a hold on the world.

While the Major League Baseball season would continue to be played, albeit a smaller 60-game regular season – a change from the normal 162-game regular season – the Minor League Baseball season was cancelled on June 30, throwing the livelihoods of baseballers, staff and affiliate teams out of sync.

“It’s not every day you get the opportunity to sign with the LA Dodgers. It was something that built up over time [so] it was pretty disheartening [to learn the season would be cancelled],” Gibbens told The Inner Sanctum.

“It’s not often that a player my age gets signed as well. It’s not as common so I need to use up all the time I can get.”

The overall uncertainty of the situation last year had players worried for the Minor League Baseball season however it became increasingly apparent that a season wouldn’t be happening. Despite the harsh news, the Melbourne-based prospect was still set on working towards his goals and never slowed down in his approach to training.

“It (the cancellation) was pretty disheartening. It was a little annoying,” Gibbens revealed.

“I definitely didn’t take it as a year off, I worked pretty hard to try and get better and not make it a waste. I did quite a lot of work with the Dodgers coordinator staff. It was a bit more of a focus for me.”

Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, Arizona, the Spring Training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers (Source: Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports)

The process for any player wanting to make their way through the ranks of professional baseball in the US is to first compete in Spring Training in the hopes of earning a spot on a team’s roster.

The Spring Training process wasn’t completely new to Gibbens, however he explained how he found solace in being back in the US this year with a fresh outlook amid an improving COVID-19 landscape.

A typical day of Spring Training for Gibbens involved getting to Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, Arizona – the Spring Training home of the Dodgers – at 7:30am and checking their set schedules for the day and what they’ll be working on.

“We’ll go do prep and stretch which is your regular dynamic warm-up, that kinda stuff. And then straight into conditioning which is a lot of running and we do that before we even throw which is pretty crazy in the Arizona heat. And that’ll be every day which is insane”, Gibbens says.

“It was a bit of an eye-opener to me for the first few days. I’m getting a little bit more used to it by now, but it’s pretty brutal, the running.”

Depending on whether it’s a light, moderate or heavy day, or you’re having a go in a game, Gibbens says the preparation after conditioning is different for everyone. However, especially for pitchers, doing work on the mound is usually the main part of their training.

“You play catch to the extent you need to and then, as a pitcher, you’d do mound work where you get onto the mound and do some dry drills. You’ll still throw but it’s very light throwing and just to work on your action,” Gibbens said.

“With pitchers they want to structure it around when I’m pitching or when we’re all going to a game or throwing in the bullpen. They want to make sure they’re mindful of our bodies to make sure we’re one hundred percent ready with an energy level for the game.”

Gibbens says the level of coaching received throughout Spring Training differs from coach-to-coach but identifies the attitudes of players and staff of the organisation as key contributors to everyone being on the same page. With less direct instructions during Spring Training, Gibbens feels that will change come the Minor League season getting underway.

“You’ll have your prep coach which is usually a strength coach and then you’ll have your pitching coaches that will take you through whether you’re playing catch or doing dry work or on the mound. But so far, it just seems that attitude of the different people,” Gibbens said.

“At this level, a lot of the guys up here are very, very good so you can tell the attitude is a little more relaxed in terms of letting you go and letting you do what you need to do. And then, after the fact, they’ll tell you if you’re doing well or if there’s anything you need to work on.”

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The structure of how Spring Training operated was different to last year. This time around, groups were split up depending on your position and what you were doing for the day, whether it was training or playing.

For the Dodgers prospects at Minor League Spring Training it also meant staying indoors due to COVID, confined to their hotel with a mountainous view. It was also across the road from the State Farm Stadium, the home of the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals.

“They just tried to structure Spring Training this year around keeping us a bit separated until it’s game time. They basically kept us in our own little workgroups as well,” Gibbens revealed.

“For the Dodgers organsiation, it’s more surrounding a mix of different players in groups to spread the knowledge and spread the attitude. We don’t have too much of an inkling in terms of what different playing groups are going to be leading into.”

For the right-hander, his goals are simple: to make it to the Majors. But even he knows that can be a long road. For Gibbens, to make an affiliate team, he says, would provide a good stepping stone for the next few years and be the launching pad to his professional baseball career.

“I say long-term but I mean I hope it is short-term, but Big Leagues is the goal. If it comes it comes. If it doesn’t come, that’s fine”, Gibbens says.

“I think a big goal of mine was to just get over [to the States] and compete as hard as I could and whatever team I make and whatever kind of results I get, it’ll be fine. Just to say that I’ve given it my best shot is really what I want.”

“I definitely do think I have a few years left to prove that I am at that level but for now, I’d like to try and live in the short-term, day-by-day, week-by-week just to see how it goes but just try hard every time I go out there and pitch.”

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