"Kirk has the
same problems a lot of kids have," says Gates Brown, the Tiger hitting
instructor. "He's got to learn to get out in front of the ball. He's used
to being able to let the ball occasionally get in on him, and maybe those metal
bats would still allow him to hit. Well, here it's getting in a lot
In the Tigers'
opening exhibition game, Gibson got a chance to play left-field in the late
innings. In his first at bat, he watched Boston rookie Pitcher Wilhelmus
Remmerswaal nibble around to a 3-and-l count, jumped on a fastball and drove it
450 feet over the scoreboard in right. "That's just an indication of what
Kirk can do," said Campbell. "He's the greatest combination of power
and speed I've seen in a long, long time."
But as spring
training progressed, Gibson sat on the bench most of the time. He's been to the
plate only eight times since his homer. Six of those times he struck out.
"He knew and we knew it would take work," says Campbell. "But speed
makes up for a lot, and I'm not sure anyone can run with Kirk."
As Gibson hit
until his hands blistered and bled on one field of the baseball complex called
Tigertown, on an adjacent field an old friend of his worked out with the
University of Michigan squad, a young man who is facing the same kind of
decision Gibson made. His name is Rick Leach, and he was the Wolverines'
starting quarterback for four years, during which he accounted for 81
touchdowns. Like Gibson, Leach is also an All-America outfielder. He outhit
Gibson last year to win the Big Ten batting crown at .404, the first .400
hitter at Michigan since former Tiger Catcher Bill Freehan in 1960, but Leach
is waiting to see how he does in the NFL draft before deciding whether to play
pro football or baseball. "Kirk and I talk a lot about it and what it's
like in baseball," says Leach. "You know what the first piece of advice
he gave me was? Find myself a wooden bat."