Austin Bibens-Dirkx had every opportunity to quit baseball.
Like when five Major League teams cut him. Or when he waited tables at Applebee’s to make ends meet. Or when he spent the first half of 2016 as a 31-year-old in an independent league.
But Bibens-Dirkx never walked away from the game, and it rewarded his faith when he made his MLB debut May 17 with the Texas Rangers.
“I always said I was never going to quit the game unless I absolutely had no choice,” he told FanRagSports.com. “I was going to keep the uniform on until nobody felt I should have one anymore. It’s the old saying, ‘If you’re wearing a uniform, then you have a chance.’ ”
The new Meridian resident — he and his wife, Leah, bought a house in January — spent 12 years in the minor leagues playing for 20 teams in six organizations, made two stints in the independent leagues and spent seven winters pitching in either Venezuela or the Dominican Republic.
The Rangers called him up to the big leagues May 7 as a long reliever and spot starter as their rotation battled injuries. The 32-year-old rookie has filled a key role for Texas the past six weeks as it battles to stay in the AL West and wildcard races.
After Friday’s no decision against the Chicago White Sox, Bibens-Dirkx is 3-0 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 appearances and five starts. His rookie campaign already includes a win at Yankee Stadium and out-dueling reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer for a victory.
The success doesn’t surprise Bibens-Dirkx.
“I always had it in my head that I was good enough, that I was capable of pitching at this level,” he told his hometown Statesman Journal of Salem, Ore. “I had my family and friends and faith. Everything was keeping me focused and saying I could do it. Obviously, a couple baseball teams didn’t think I was capable of it.
“... If I didn’t have that support base, I probably wouldn’t be here. Who knows what I would be doing?”
But the business side of baseball could catch up to Bibens-Dirkx soon and send him to the bullpen or back to the minors. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Friday’s start could be his last for the foreseeable future as Cole Hamels returned from the disabled list Monday, Andrew Cashner on Thursday and Martin Perez is eligible Monday.
Their return would return the Rangers’ rotation to their projected starting five on Opening Day.
“I’ve seen everything baseball has to offer, the ups and downs,” Bibens-Dirkx told the Statesman Journal. “One of the downsides is it doesn’t necessarily matter how well you perform. Sometimes, it’s just you’re part of that collateral damage.
“I feel like I’ve done everything I can so far to prove myself. Hopefully, that is apparent to them, but I’ve been around a long time. I’ve learned not to really expect anything.”