Former Baltimore Oriole Jay Gibbons, now playing for the Long Island Ducks, struck out three times against the York Revolution on Friday night.
Former Baltimore Oriole Jay Gibbons, now playing for the Long Island Ducks, struck out three times against the York Revolution on Friday night. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Kate Penn)

The crowd cheered for him to fail. It's the same story with any visiting player picked to be the Pizza Hut K-Man at Sovereign Bank Stadium.

If the K-man strikes out, the crowd wins free breadsticks. So the crowd responds with typical free-food wanderlust.

They stand. They scream. They get ugly.

But it seemed particularly ruthless Friday night.

Jay Gibbons, 31, has gone from Baltimore Orioles outfielder, million-dollar talent, to boo material. In York - a place where Gibbons signed autographs five or six times for diehard O's fans - it took three pitches for him to strike out in his first at-bat.

The crowd roared.

Free food! Free breadsticks! Gibbons you stink!

Up in the fourth inning, he struck out again. And once again it took three pitches.

And the crowd roared again.

Free food! Free breadsticks! Gibbons you still stink!

Gibbons understands the situation.

He used human growth hormone. Named in the Mitchell Report, Gibbons had the misfortune and misery to be linked to illegal performance-enhancing drugs and put up numbers well off his career average during the same year.

He doesn't make excuses.

He knows why he's in the Atlantic League.

"I made a mistake five years ago," Gibbons said before the game, "and I know I'm going to have to pay for it. I'm paying for it right now."

Released at the end of March, Gibbons tried to do the right thing.

"I've apologized before and I'll say it again, I'm sorry," he said.


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He and his agent have contacted the remaining 29 major league organizations. In a letter sent to clubs, he offered to donate his entire salary to charity.

Still nothing.

Some clubs have told him they aren't allowed to touch him. Other clubs have told him they would keep him in mind if they needed to fill in for an injured player.

Without any promising leads, he decided to get back on the field. Even if he had to go to the independent Atlantic League. Granted, he went to the best independent team money could buy. The Long Island Ducks have 15 players with major league experience.

But Gibbons didn't expect it to be an easy transition. He went back to the minors before and struggled. But it was usually a rehab assignment in Frederick, Md.

"It's always harder to go down than go up," Gibbons said.

The lights don't seem to shine as bright.

The ball isn't as easy to pick up because the batter's eye in center field isn't as big.

And the only scouting report might come from the guy sitting next to you in the dugout, somebody who played against the opposing pitcher years before.

"You get spoiled in the big leagues," he said.

Gibbons had a chance to come to York. He knew Revs coach Sam Snyder, when the two used to work in Baltimore. And York contacted him early on.

But he couldn't do that to himself.

He has enough reminders of what his life used to be like. He drives home to Owings Mills, Md., and his old team - the Orioles - are on television.

"I had a blast in my seven years with Baltimore," Gibbons said. "But I needed to get away."

He didn't want to relive his downfall every time he came to the park. He needed a new start.

He won't make excuses. He doesn't sound like a pampered athlete making excuses. He openly talks about his past. And he knows his situation is not the worst in baseball, or even the worst on the team.

"Nook Logan is the same position," Gibbons said about his Ducks teammate and former Nationals outfielder. "There's no reason he should be here. He's robbed me of two homers."

But that's part of the stigma associated with being named in the Mitchell Report or having tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Some players survive. Baltimore's Brian Roberts comes to mind. Others players have been forced to re-invent themselves in places like Central Islip, N.Y.

Three of the Ducks' five outfielders have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Logan and Gibbons were named in the Mitchell Report, and Alex Sanchez was suspended 10 games in 2005 for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy.

"This league is a league of second chances," Long Island manager Dave LaPoint said.

Just the fact that Gibbons was willing to talk about his past doesn't mean he should be given another shot at the majors. He will have to put up the numbers in order to return to the bigs. But it takes humility and class to do what he has done.

He owns up to his mistakes. He makes no excuses.

He might not be in the majors anymore, but it isn't because of his lack of character.

Jim Seip covers the York Revolution for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2025 or jseip@ydr.com. And check out his blog at www.yorkblog/revs.