lifestylefrisco.com

Hibbard Brings Ample Experience to ‘Riders

The Frisco RoughRiders have a new pitching coach for 2018: Greg Hibbard.

Hibbard, 53, is heading into his 16th season as a pitching coach. After pitching collegiately for the Alabama Crimson Tide, the New Orleans native was drafted in the 16th round by the Kansas City Royals in 1986.

His big-league debut came May 31, 1989 with the Chicago White Sox. Besides the Pale Hose, he also pitched for the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners during his six big-league seasons, including a 15-win campaign with the Cubs in 1993.

Hibbard’s Major League career was ultimately cut short by injuries and he last pitched in “the show” with Seattle in 1994 before officially retiring in 1997.

Two years later, “Hibby” started his coaching career with the Schaumburg Flyers, a team managed by former White Sox teammate Ron Kittle, the 1983 American League Rookie of the Year, in the independent Northern League.

Coaching in unaffiliated ball is much different than coaching normal minor-league affiliated ball because those teams are not attached to a big-league organization, but Hibbard spent four seasons in independent ball and enjoyed every minute.

You have a different dynamic,” Hibbard said. “The way they put their teams together is very unique, just the mixture of all that different talent, you get a different kind of game I’d say. You’ve got some guys that are veterans that have a chance to get back into Double-A and progress their careers. Then you have some kids that came out of high school that are eager just to see what it’s all about.”

In 2002, he landed a position as a minor-league pitching coach in the Cleveland organization.

Hibbard went on to spend 13 seasons in the Indians system and earned high marks for his work with the organization’s talented stable of young hurlers.

He’s worked in Double-A several times before, but is looking forward to this being his first stint as a pitching coach in the Texas League, a circuit known more for its hitters than its pitchers.

This’ll probably be my fifth stint at that level. The guys are eager to learn, they’re still learning a lot about their bodies and their minds, the mindsets,” Hibbard said. “(I’m looking forward to) just the ability to get on the field (and) get hands-on with some young talent I’m sure the Rangers have at their lower levels. Last year, I went to instructional ball, but I feel like there’s a lot of young talent coming that’s going to really need some fine-tuning with their deliveries. Hopefully I’m the best guy for that job.”

Last season was Hibbard’s first in the Ranger organization as he served as the pitching coach for Triple-A Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League.

This campaign will mark his first in Frisco, but after seeing Dr Pepper Ballpark and the Roughriders’ outstanding facilities when Round Rock visited Frisco for exhibition games the past few seasons, he left impressed, not just with the stadium but with the surrounding area.

The last two years, we came into Frisco and played that little exhibition game. Yeah, I’ve seen the stadium, but you don’t really know the atmosphere until you’ve played a game there when the stands are full, and the pool is flowing, but I’m excited,” Hibbard said. “The area seems really nice and I’ve heard a lot of good things about Frisco, a lot of good things about the fan base. I’m just excited to get into a culture that guys are willing to come there on a daily basis and work.”

With the ‘Riders, he’ll work alongside manager Joe Mikulik, who is returning for a fourth consecutive season in Frisco in 2018.

This will mark the first time for Hibbard and Mikulik to work together on the same coaching staff, but this talented duo feels like they already know each other well.

I’m looking forward to it, no doubt. I got a chance to be around Hibby in spring training the last couple years and it’s been fun to be around him,” Mikulik said. “Good person number one and brings a lot of experience, brings major league experience for the pitchers. He’ll be fun to work with. We had three guys go up to the big leagues (in 2017). The pitching staff that we’ll have this year, I feel very confident in Greg teaching them and moving them along their way.”

Mikulik is entering his second decade as a minor-league manager. And the Texas native has earned considerable attention for his numerous YouTube videos showing the fiery skipper protesting questionable calls or being ejected from games throughout his career.

Hibbard brings a similar level of passion and fire to the dugout, and figures he and “Mik” will get along well.

Well, Joe’s very talented in what he does, and he has a lot of energy day-to-day. I feel like I possess some of that as well,” Hibbard said. “We worked out a little bit together last year in spring training and had a lot of time to spend together talking, so the relationship there has already been built. Hopefully we can just add to that as the season progresses.”

Like most pitching coaches, Hibbard has an underlying mantra or philosophy he uses when working with young pitchers which is at the center of everything he does.

Of course, he has been coaching young hurlers long enough to know that depending on the types of pitchers he’s working with during any single season that he might have to tweak his approach a bit, but the core concepts he teaches remain the same year after year.

(I want them to) control their body. I like mentally tough (pitchers), (so we) talk about focus and mentally tough pitchers, what that means, and it doesn’t revolve around success,” Hibbard said. “The philosophy for me is to not put success first and foremost, it’s team. You go out there and you execute your job, you do what a team asks you to do. That makes you a mentally tough player sometimes. I think my philosophy would just be a mentally tough, athletic pitcher when you’re on the mound.”

And Hibbard is no different than coaches in any sport and at any level of competition in that his goal remains the same with every player he works with, regardless of their experience or background.

That’s because the thing which continues to drive him is seeing that light bulb moment when a young pitcher not only understands the sage advice he’s been doling out, but sees how listening to Hibbard’s teachings results in success on the mound.

When you can make a kid smile about his career, it makes me happy,” Hibbard said. “We’ll have stuff where we work on their delivery and guys will get frustrated, but when you start to see guys smile and have fun, that’s the most gratifying for me. Whether they win or lose doesn’t matter to me, it’s how they go about their daily routines and have fun being a baseball player.”