* OF Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC) who spent part of this season for Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and was drafted from the Langley Blaze by the Seattle Mariners in the 25th round in 2006 is trying to raise funds through Walk4Hearing, the Hearing Loss Association of America. .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians drafted … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki There are a lot of reasons to know the name Tyson Gillies.
First, the 25-year-old is a professional baseball player. Gillies has manned the outfield at various levels for the Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies organizations for the last eight seasons. Over 500 games he has hit .284/.364/.411 with 29 home runs, 66 doubles, 37 triples and 111 stolen bases.
The centre fielder from Vancouver has also played for a number of Canadian national teams, including leading off for the Canucks at the World Baseball Classic, the senior team’s most recent tournament.
*** Second, Gillies is hearing-impaired, one of the minority of deaf professional athletes.
“In one ear, I might have around 30% [hearing] and in the other one, maybe 35 or 40,” he said. “I have the kind of severe loss that when I put my hearing aids in, I can hear pretty well. I still miss a lot – don’t get me wrong – but I’m able to hear at least, and that’s more than I can ask for.”
Currently helping to raise funds for the Hearing Loss Association of America through the Walk4Hearing, his personal page shares his story.
“I was four-and-a-half years old when finally diagnosed with a hearing disability,” Gillies said. “I spent those years struggling to make sense of the world. I was blessed to be able to read lips and had good speech at a young age. Although it was because of this my parents nor my doctors could understand my behavior.
“I remember it like yesterday, sitting in preschool fighting to hear the PA system from above, hoping the teacher wouldn’t call on me in class. I was such a young kid and didn’t know any better or understand what I was dealing with, walking the school as a misunderstood outcast without a reason in my mind.
“There are many people who still don’t understand what we go through every day. I’ve had to overcome a lot in my life and I know it’s just the beginning. Even after hearing aids, I learned that things don’t necessarily get better. But you can.”
Gillies knows the continued struggle of living with hearing loss, and wanted to share his story in order to encourage others and let them know that while the obstacle is one he will never fully overcome, the odds can be beaten.
“There were a lot of times when I felt sorry for myself and things like that,” Gillies said. “And I felt like I was being punished. From the standpoint of the hearing part, that doesn’t get better, but you can as a person.
“There are so many different things. You can learn about the hearing and make things better. I wrote that as a positive note from the standpoint that you can be positive about things and good things will happen.”
Gillies joined the Walk4Hearing after a young boy contacted him online two years ago, asking him to come on his own walk. Though he was unable to attend, the ballplayer has been trying to do something since.
“I had to go away to winter ball that off-season,” Gillies said. “I wasn’t able to go. But now with all this free time I have, I wanted to find out a way to make a difference in the hearing community and basically raise awareness with everybody else, and hopefully get some people to understand my loss at the same time.”
*** Third, the outfielder’s name has been splashed across various minor league news headlines for a few less-than-endearing incidents, including a suspension for throwing his equipment, accusations of yelling at a bus driver, and even drug charges that were later dropped.
His teammates seem to love him, he is friendly and interactive with fans, he is open, kind and generous with the media, and appears to be generally supportive of those around him. So what kind of guy is Tyson Gillies really?
“I’m just a passionate player,” Gillies said, laughing off the aforementioned incidents. “I’ve always been really passionate about life and baseball and I work hard and lay everything I have on the line.
“In the end, my teammates have all had good things to say about me and those are the guys that I’m around every day, those are the guys who know how I am on and off the field. So my teammates know and that’s basically all I worry about.”
Several of those teammates have been contributors to the Walk4Hearing, with Gillies almost halfway to his goal of raising five thousand dollars before the event at the end of September.
“It’s been great,” he said of the response. “It’s not over yet ... but it means a lot to have the teammates behind me who are so supportive and paying money out of their pockets to raise awareness for my disability.
“It does mean a lot and I haven’t even had to chase guys down. I asked them once and they got right on board with it. It means a lot and goes to show what kind of relationship my teammates and I really had with the Phillies.”
Released by the Phillies in June after an earlier request by Gillies, leaving his friends in the organization was one of the most difficult things he had to do.
“[The release] wasn’t a surprise to me because two weeks before I had actually asked them,” he said. “I actually talked about my release with the farm director and told him, ‘With all the things that have been going on in the past, I just need a fresh start somewhere else.’
“I wanted a clean slate and wasn’t really happy with the things that were going on there. So about two or three weeks before I was released, we had already been talking about it ... It was hard, but it’s my career. In the end I do what is best for me, so that part was easy. The hard part was leaving all my teammates and good friends I’ve met along the way.”
*** Temporarily stepping away from the game has allowed Gillies the opportunity to finally repair and rehabilitate an injury that has been nagging him for over three years, affecting his game the entire way.
In 2011, the outfielder was misdiagnosed with a bone bruise in his left foot. Three years later, after playing through the injury the whole time, Gillies had surgery to repair and correct multiple joints. The procedure currently has him on a scooter, and will keep him sidelined for a lengthy period.
“I’m on a knee scooter, and when I get my soft cast off then I go into a boot,” he said. “From there it’s a total of two-and-a-half months with no weight on my foot, no walking or anything. Then it’s five to six months of recovery.”
The rehab sounds less than ideal, but Gillies is ready to come back from the injury at 100 per cent again for the first time in years.
“That’s what I’m really excited about, to be honest with you,” he said. “The doctor was really happy about it. He thought that there were more joints that were affected, but there weren’t so he was really happy. He told me that I should have no problems at all and I should be feeling as good as new.”
Looking to come back for spring training next season, Gillies is waiting to start conversations with teams about joining another organization.
“My agents wanted to get to the bottom of everything, have my recovery time and get more information about everything before we started talking to teams,” the Tampa resident said. “Before I even had the surgery this season they wanted to shut it down this year and finally find out once and for all what was wrong with my foot.
“Sure enough, the recovery time was pretty perfect timing for everything to go down.”
The timing for the surgery worked out, but it hasn’t been fun for Gillies to be sitting at home in front of the television during the baseball season.
“I was just telling my mom yesterday because she flew in to take care of me and get me around and things like that,” he said. “I was saying that I can’t wait until baseball season is over so I don’t have to see it on TV. It is very difficult.”
Gillies is hoping to be able to participate in some way, shape, or form at the upcoming Walk4Hearing in Chicago at the end of September, but it depends on his foot. He will certainly do one of the organization’s walks as soon as he is able.
“I talked to the director of [the event] and we discussed certain ways I can help out,” Gillies said. “I’ll raise money and be there for everybody ... The walk that I’m raising for is in Chicago, so I’m going to try [for that one]. I’m not going to be out my boot by then so I won’t be walking but I’m going to try to fly out there for it.
“I already talked to the director and it depends on my rehab and my recovery but if not, there’s another walk in November here in Jacksonville, Florida ... I’m definitely going to make sure I do one.”
- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis