Now 27 years old going on 28 in a couple weeks, Jon Kibler can still ratchet up his flame thrower of a left arm.
Only problem is, the 6-foot, 5-inch left-hander isn't really sure where his 90-plus mph fastballs are going to land.
It's a difference from the days not too long ago when Kibler could place his heat-seeking missile of a fastball just about anywhere over the plate.
"I think there are days when I can still get into the 90s. Is it consistent? No," Kibler said recently. "You have to remember I'm not playing everyday."
Instead of spending everyday at the ballpark, like he did each summer from 2007 to 2012, Kibler now wakes early weekday mornings to get to his full-time office job in Maryland by 7:15 or 7:30. The Baltimore native usually finishes up his duties selling insurance by 5 p.m. And if there's a game for Jefferson that night, he'll make the hour-long drive north, arriving to the ballfield with minutes to spare before the first pitch.
"I barely made it to the start last night," Kibler said by phone Thursday afternoon, taking a break from his gig with HMS Insurance in Cockeysville, Md., to reflect a bit on how he went from being the Detroit Tigers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008 to now subduing opposing offenses in the local Central League.
Stellar numbers: In his second season pitching for Jefferson, Kibler has posted a 0.91 ERA and struck out 65 in 54.1 innings pitched through his first nine games. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning at Glen Rock last Thursday. Through July 24, Kibler led all Central League starting pitchers in strikeouts and innings pitched while sitting second in ERA behind Mount Wolf's Dan Dierdorff (0.55 ERA).
"I still enjoy playing, which is why I'm still with Jefferson and playing at that level," Kibler said. "I enjoy the game and teammates and competition. By no means is that league easy street. There are a lot of former college players. It's fun because you can't just go out there and dominate."
Kibler speaks with the levelheadedness of someone who has a good perspective on where he's been and a tight grasp on how he'd like his future to play out.
"I think it's life experience. I've been on my own since I was 20 years old," he said. "You learn you have to survive on a small salary."
In the minors: From NCAA Division I Western Carolina (N.C.) University to a community college in Baltimore to NCAA D-I Michigan State, Kibler eventually turned himself into a 30th-round draft pick of the Tigers in 2007. A year later, his 1.75 ERA in 23 starts at Class A West Michigan earned him Detroit's Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors and an invite to big-league spring training in 2009.
It took him less than four years from that point to be out of pro baseball entirely at the age of 26. His struggles with the Tigers' double-A affiliate in 2009 and 2010 pushed him into independent ball in 2011 and 2012. He last pitched professionally for Somerset in the Atlantic League, the league that also includes the York Revolution.
"When I was with Somerset that was my last-ditch effort," Kibler said. "Sparky (Lyle) was the manager at that point. Being around that environment of former major leaguers or triple-A or double-A players, it was a great experience. But I think you realize there's a certain point you have to pursue things. It's a long road back in independent ball. You have to get very hot and opportunities have to open up at the right time."
Landing at Jefferson: Deciding to call it quits with the pro game at the end of the 2012 season, Kibler began searching for a full-time job while also following up on a conversation he had earlier that year with a family friend who knows Jefferson coach Steve Gentile.
"While I was with Somerset he said 'hey, there is this team in Jefferson who would love for you to play for them when you're done," Kibler said.
Kibler, who last month became engaged to his girlfriend of six years, understands his consistency on the mound might dwindle as he continues to further his career off of it. In the meantime, he wants to enjoy whatever is left in the tank.
"At this point I do this strictly for fun," he said.
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.