Austin Bibens-Dirkx, a McNary graduate, fires off a pitch for the Iowa Cubs earlier this season. (Photo by Larry A. Woolis, Courtesy Iowa Cubs)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The only thing standing in the way between Austin Dirkx-Bibens and a spot in major league baseball is a bit of consistency.

“I’ve had a couple of big games this year and two or three bad ones. It’s all about consistency and if I get that things will take care of themselves,” he said.

Last year, Bibens-Dirkx got called up to the Iowa Cubs, the triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, and became the first former Celtic in nearly three decades to reach the rung just below the majors in professional baseball.

This season, he’s on the road with the Iowa Cubs and reaching the midway point of the season with three wins, three losses and an earned-run average of 6.79 as a starting pitcher. He’s pitched 67 innings with 42 strikeouts. Bibens-Dirkx started his minor league career with the Mariners organization as a reliever, but it was the Cubs who gave him his first shot as a starter.

“You approach the hitters a little differently and you’re going to end up with either the win or the loss, but it’s about keeping your team within reaching distance by the end of the game,” he said.

One of the bigger changes to switching clubs is that he’s no longer the elder statesman on the team. As the Mariners extended his contract for three seasons, he was often the oldest player on the field, but he’s comfortable relinquishing the leadership role for the time being.

“Everybody has an idea of what they’re good at here and that’s a nice change. On the other teams, I was trying to lead by example and now I just have to come in, do my work and get the job done,” Bibens-Dirkx said.

He’s enjoyed most getting to travel to places he would likely never have seen otherwise, Round Rock Stadium in Texas was a personal highlight pitching in front of a crowd of 10,000, but even that didn’t live up to pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League earlier this year.

“I pitched on opening day down there and we had a crowd of 30,000. The fans really, really get into the game. If you score a run they’re throwing things everywhere,” he said.

The biggest challenge thus far has been recovering from a 2007 shoulder surgery.

“After that, it took me a while to get back in the mindset of just letting the ball go because I was afraid of getting injured again,” he said.

As his confidence returned, it opened up doors to becoming a starter.

“The Cubs organization is treating me well, they’ve given me an opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of it,” he said.

He added another ball to the ones he’s already juggling by getting engaged earlier this year. He and fiancee Leah Baisch are planning a New Year’s Eve wedding.

“I got to have her with me for a month and that was amazing, but it’s difficult planning things long distance,” Bibens-Dirkx said.

All in all, there is little to complain about.

“I’m playing the game for a living and I get to go travel to places I’ve never been,” he said. “Mostly, I’m having fun, it is a job and you have to take it seriously, but if you’re not having fun the job is going to suffer.”