Gibson's motivation for '24 runs deep

February 19th, 2024

This story was excerpted from John Denton's Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When and his college sweetheart, Elizabeth Straatmann, got married years ago in suburban St. Louis, the wedding guest list was at 200 with just family members before they even got around to considering which friends and teammates to invite.

How big is the Gibson family? Well, his father-in-law has 12 brothers and sisters, while his mother-in-law is one of six, and the number of cousins these days is in the hundreds. Kyle and Elizabeth have four children, three of which were playfully catching baseballs with their hats in the Cardinals' clubhouse following a recent pitchers and catchers workout.

A large chunk of that family gets together every Sunday afternoon for a meal with gobs and gobs of food available. Not surprisingly, most of those Missouri-based family members are diehard Cardinals fans, and after years of pestering Gibson to entertain the thought of pitching for the Redbirds, the stars finally aligned back in November. With Gibson now a member of the Cards and living year-round just outside of St. Louis, he should be available for more of those massive family weekend gatherings.

That is, if Gibson pitches well, he stressed, because of the fervor of his Cardinals-loving family.

“Every Sunday afternoon [Elizabeth’s] grandparents host dinner and I’ve already said, ‘All right, if I go out on Sunday and I don’t have a great game, I don’t know if I want to go to that dinner or not,’” Gibson said with a good-natured laugh. “We kind of knew that [family pressures] would be a part of it because there are always different challenges when you are playing at home.

“No, everybody has been great, and they’re all excited for Elizabeth. I know that sounds silly, but our wives go through a lot. We’re away from them for six or seven months and it’s a lot, especially with four kids now. Our family members are as excited for [Elizabeth] as they are for me.”

A star at the University of Missouri from 2007-09, Gibson thought for years that he might someday wear the birds on the bat across his chest before his MLB career concluded. His desire to pitch in St. Louis extended beyond his family ties to the close friendship he had for years with Cards icon Adam Wainwright.

Within days of Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak calling and expressing a strong interest, the 36-year-old Gibson had signed to pitch for the Redbirds in 2024. The Cardinals were bold this offseason, landing Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Gibson before November was complete, looking to bring some veteran savvy and toughness to a pitching staff that was lacking it in a subpar 2023.

For Gibson, the chance to be a potential savior for the Redbirds is extremely motivating -- especially after years of thinking he might be a Cardinal.

“I feel like I’ve been surrounded by Cardinals Nation for 17 years, it seems, and when we moved back to the area in 2017 to be around more family, it was just one of those things that I wanted to happen and I’m thankful that it did,” Gibson said. “Everything matches up with me being [in St. Louis] and wanting to be the best dad I can be and the best husband I can be. This gives me that opportunity to be home way more and to join a team that’s really good.”

Gibson knows this homecoming will only have a happy ending if he can help the Cardinals distance themselves from 2023 and return to the playoffs come October. He proved last season that he still has plenty of gas and guile left in his right arm by going 15-9 with the blossoming Orioles. While his ERA did jump to 4.73, he was tied for third in MLB in starts (33) and tied for 12th in innings pitched (192). He also had 13 outings in which he surrendered two or fewer earned runs.

“Starting pitching can really bring a lot of consistency to a team,” Gibson said. “I was just talking to [Cardinals center fielder] Tommy [Edman] about this the other day -- when the offense and the defense know what to expect every day when their starter takes the mound, it takes a lot of pressure off of them and they don’t always have to feel like they have to score three or four early or have to dig out of a hole. There’s going to be days when we stink, but starting pitching can really bring that consistency to a team. And that’s what we’re hoping to do here.”

If Gibson does that for the Cardinals, he should be plenty welcome at those Sunday afternoon meals alongside his adoring family members.