He made AA in 1990, his fourth year as a pro. He made AAA in 1992, his sixth year. But, by the start of 1997, he'd never gotten his call to the majors.
"It crosses your mind you're wasting your time," Gilbert told The New York Daily News that June, "but I still enjoyed playing, and that's kept me going."
For Gilbert that June, it finally kept him going to the majors.
By the time Gilbert's career ended in 2003 after 17 total seasons of being in the lineup as a pro, Gilbert ended up playing in three big league seasons, and playing a year in Japan.
Gilbert's long career began in 1987, taken by the Twins in the 12th round of the draft, out of Fresno State.
He played his first year at single-A Visalia, playing shortstop, then his second largely at single-A Kenosha. He made AA Orlando in 1990, hitting .254. For 1991, the shortstop Gilbert moved to a utility role, a role he wasn't sure he wanted to take, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
"When you hear about somebody being a utility player, you think of someone who only plays when somebody gets hurt or something. I do not like to sit, I want to play," Gilbert told The Sentinel. "But the way it has turned out, I'm an everyday utility player. I'm always in the lineup, just not in the same position."
Gilbert's playing time continued. Over the next six seasons, Gilbert never played in fewer than 104 games. But he also never made the majors, moving to the White Sox system in 1993, the Phillies in 1994 and then the Mets for 1996.
Then, finally, in June 1997, 10 years almost to the day after he signed, Gilbert made the majors, called up to the Mets.
"It was pretty much a dream come true, obviously when you wait that long," Gilbert told ESPNNewYork.com years later of his call-up. "But I tried not to think about it like that. You just keep playing every day."
With the Mets that year, Gilbert got into 29 games, with 22 at bats. He got three hits, one home run. He returned for seven more games in 1998, three with the Mets and four with the Cardinals.
After another season back at AAA, Gilbert returned to the majors for 15 final games with the Dodgers in 2000.
In April 2001, Gilbert was at AAA again, with the Dodgers at Las Vegas. He told The Las Vegas Review-Journal then that he looked to himself on why he hadn't seen the majors more.
"I've had limited opportunities up there, but as small as those opportunities are, I really haven't made the most of them," Gilbert told The Review-Journal. "So I would say a lot of the blame falls on me. Your window of opportunity is not very big sometimes. Sometimes you just have to make the most of that opportunity."
Gilbert moved on later that year to a new opportunity: Japan. He played one season with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, returning stateside for time in two final seasons as a pro in the minors, at AAA with the Pirates.
Gilbert has gone on to coach in college, coaching at Fresno Pacific and, starting in 2011 and continuing for 2012, Gilbert is serving as an assistant coach at Long Beach State University in California.
- Orlando Sentinel, May 12, 1991: Gilbert: An Everyday Utility Player
- New York Daily News, June 8, 1997: Oldest Rookie A Quick Hit
- Las Vegas Review-Journal, April 8, 2001: Gilbert waiting for turn
- ESPNNewYork.com, June 7, 2010: In depth: Wally's admirers, Ollie & Duaner
Cards Featured: 787/880 - 89.4%
Players/Coaches Featured: 798
Made the Majors: 545 - 68%-X
Never Made the Majors:253-32%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 243
10+ Seasons in the Minors: 148-X