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Former Chemeketa student makes major league debut

Former Chemeketa student and Salem native Austin Bibens-Dirkx pitches a game during his minor league years. Photo courtesy of Joel Dinda.

By Michael Eubanks and Alex Seifer

It’s the dream many baseball players have but few get to follow through with: playing in the major leagues.

For one former Chemeketa student and ballplayer, that dream became a reality on May 17. After more than a decade of playing in the minors, 32-year old Salem native Austin Bibens-Dirkx finally got to pitch in his first Major League game for the Texas Rangers.

At the top of the ninth inning, with the Rangers leading the Philadelphia Phillies 9-2, Bibens-Dirkx was called out from the bullpen to take the mound. Bibens-Dirkx faced five batters and closed out the game, helping the Rangers win their 21st game of the season.

“I can’t complain at all. I pitched really well against a good team,” Bibens-Dirkx said.

After the  game, many of Bibens-Dirkx’s former teammates and coaches called and texted him to send him their congratulations, including former Storm baseball coach Tucker Brack, who coached the Chemeketa team from 2004-2009 and coached Bibens-Dirkx during his sophomore year in 2004.

“I was just talking to him yesterday and just told him how proud I was of him because he’s just a great person,” Brack said. “Besides the baseball part, what an awesome individual. It couldn’t happen to a better person. That’s pretty much what I told him when I spoke with him.”

Brack was not surprised to hear the news Bibens-Dirkx finally made it to the major leagues.

“I did honestly think he had a chance to do what he’s doing now,” he said. “There were so many games that he pitched that you just knew you were going to have a chance to win. All you had to do was give him a couple runs and that was gonna be it.”

Brack has many fond memories of coaching Bibens-Dirkx, including one particularly special game.

“My first game I coached against my school that I went to, Lower Columbia Community College, we beat them three to nothing,” he said. “It was a really good feeling, and we just about no hit them. Dirx went eight innings and stuffed them and one guy came in to close. We won three to nothing for my first win. That was something that stands out.”

A graduate of McNary High School in Keizer, Bibens-Dirkx attended Chemeketa and eventually the University of Portland. In 2006, he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and eventually spent several years playing in the minors and independent leagues for multiple organizations.

Storm men’s basketball coach David Abderhalden remembers Bibens-Dirkx as an exemplar of what student athletes should aspire to be.

“He just has this drive to continue,” he said. “You don’t see guys that spend twelve to fourteen years in the minor leagues. He just has this tremendous work ethic and desire to achieve his goal and I think that’s something that gets lost sometimes on people. We all have desires to do things but how much are we willing to sacrifice and put into it? I think that’s [what] the great thing of this story about Austin is. This is a guy that just said ‘I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna make it happen.’”

“He was just a great guy too. Nicest kid you ever wanna meet. Polite. Respectful. He went to school. [He] did all the things you want your student athletes to do”.

Despite not playing for Chemeketa in more than a decade, Brack said that Bibens-Dirkx still occasionally visits the area and keeps in contact with those who helped him succeed.  

“I call him a kid but I guess he’s not a kid anymore,” he said. “It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

Austin and the Texas Rangers will begin a three game series on the the road against the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend May 26-28, with the latter of the two games airing nationally on MLB Network.