By Josh Kerns
KIRO Radio Reporter
Hope springs eternal as the Mariners open the 2017 season Monday afternoon in Houston. But Tyson Gillies won’t be watching. He’ll be too busy chasing his own big-league dreams.
His name might ring a bell. The Mariners drafted the strapping 28-year-old Vancouver, BC outfielder back in 2007.
At the time, the standout was sure it was the start of what would be a big-time baseball career.
“I showed up, I came to work and the Mariners rewarded me for it,” he said. “You know, I loved it there. I miss my times I had there, to be honest with you.”
He’s understandably melancholy about his brief stint with the M’s. Two years after he was drafted, the team traded him as part of the deal that brought All-Star pitcher Cliff Lee to Seattle.
But Gillies never fulfilled his tremendous promise. In part because of injuries, in part because of an arrest for cocaine possession — an incident he says was widely misreported and tainted his reputation.
“It’s been seven years now since that happened and I still haven’t been able to sit down and tell the world what happened,” Gillies said. “And that is a huge reason I’m still playing this game today, so I can have that chance to be on the big scale and tell people ‘this is what happened.’”
But he can’t do that unless some team gives him another, perhaps last, shot.
That’s why he’s been pushing his body to the limits the past several weeks in a nondescript Kent warehouse.
I watched as he threw weighted baseballs and medicine balls, stretching and straining to build up his gazelle-like frame.
He’s come, along with a number of big leaguers and big-league hopefuls, to Driveline baseball.
The next generation training center is a state-of-the-art baseball bastion, where founder Kyle Boddy and his team of coaches and trainers use state-of-the-art training methods to help players both rehab from injury and maximize their potential.
“He’s an incredible athlete,” Boddy says of Gillies.
“A lot of what goes on beyond the scenes is missed,” Boddy added. “He was hurt consistently but played through injuries on his foot … and I just think a lot of instruction he got in the past didn’t match up with his skill set. So he should be a 20-home run guy. A guy that hits for a lot of power.”
That’s why Gillies refuses to give up on his dream. Even if he is relatively old for an aspiring big-leaguer at 28.
“Age is just a number,” Gillies said. “I feel as young as I ever have. Energy-wise, I think you can ask anybody in there I’m as high-energy as they come.”
It’s a longshot, but it wouldn’t be the first time Gillies defied the odds. Like overcoming nearly total deafness to rise to the top of Canadian baseball and a spot on the national team.
“They didn’t find out until I was 4 1/2 because I was reading lips and speaking about 500 sentences,” he said. “Yeah, I guess I just fooled everybody.”
But it also contributed at times to an undeserved reputation for being arrogant or aloof.
“If people are behind me talking, or to the side of me and I’m walking, I run into so much trouble. People think, ‘Oh, this guy’s a bad egg, he doesn’t listen.’ I really can’t hear you,” he laughed. “I don’t wear these things (hearing aids) as a fashion statement.”
It’s led to issues with teammates, other players and even umpires.
But he has a much bigger challenge to overcome — his 2010 arrest for cocaine possession in Florida after a night partying with teammates.
Gillies insists it was a big misunderstanding but, despite my pressing, won’t discuss the details.
“It’s a story that I definitely want to tell when people can see my face,” Gillies said. “It beat me up, having to hear that and having to hear the voices and hearing what people said and what people thought of me.”
First, though, Gillies needs some team to give him a chance to prove he’s not what the stories say.
And as the Mariners take the field Monday in Houston, it kills him to know that, for now, his dreams remain dashed.
So he’ll be swinging away in the batting cage, facing fellow aspiring players who harbor the same dream.
“I’m a lot older, I’m a lot more mature and I know what it means to get my body ready now and that’s been the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make,” he said. “I’m still learning that day to day. It took me that long to figure it out. And I’m figuring it out.”
And he’s being realistic. For now, at least, the goal isn’t to make the majors. It’s simply to get a shot with some team, somewhere. Gillies points to friends playing in Asia and Latin America, and hopes he can simply catch on with someone who’ll pay him enough to keep pursuing his passion.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of years left,” he said. “I feel like I’ve missed a lot of years that I have to make up now. And I’m not ready to give up playing a game, giving up a dream for a living.”
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He covers everything from May Day riots in Seattle to the latest Boeing news. Email Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org