Timber Rattlers’ Gillies back in the game after beating cancer

Published: Jun. 26, 2022 at 8:41 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 26, 2022 at 11:44 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Like every minor league pitcher Tyler Gillies has those big league dreams, but sometimes life can throw you a curveball.

For the independent ball pitcher turned Brewers prospect, that came in late 2019 when he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Never really expect that as a 24 year old. It was tough. Then talking to the doctors, if you’re going to get a cancer, Hodgkins Lymphoma is not the worst one to get,” said Tyler Gillies.

Gillies beat the disease once and seemed like he was back on track. With the pandemic wiping out the entire 2020 season he might not miss any game time, either. Then a routine scan showed the cancer returned.

“The second time was definitely worse. That was a big one. Wasn’t sure what was going to happen after that. Kind of treated it like Major League Baseball is the goal for me with baseball, and getting back to baseball was the goal for me when I was sick. Baseball was kind of the light at the end of the tunnel. Everything I did to get healthy again was to get back on the baseball field,” said Gillies.

“The first time I went through chemo I was able to keep working out and training through that. Then that second time I was completely shut down, it was a lot harder on the body, spent a lot more time in the hospital. It was a good couple years without throwing, not working out. Then I got finished about a year ago this month. I was able to start working out. Took a lot longer for my arm to get back in shape.”

Gillies kept fighting the disease, and to get back on the field. Eventually the day came in spring training. More than two years after the initial diagnosis Gillies took the mound at spring training in Arizona.

What for many pitchers would be another day at the office, but for Gillies it was understandably a little different this time.

“That first little bit was easy to get back to. Like riding a bike you’re able to do it rudimentaly well. Right away I was able to get up to eighty miles an hour relatively quickly. It’s that next, taking it to the elite level that’s proving to be difficult, getting back my stuff. I had to take a moment after my first pitch, soak it in,” said Gillies.

Eventually Gillies would find himself back in Grand Chute with the Timber Rattlers. The very team he played for prior to his diagnosis in 2019.

“Then here, my first game, we were in Beloit and had a moment where everybody stepped back. Joe had arranged it with our pitching coach. At the moment I didn’t like it because I want to pitch. I didn’t want to think about that, I’m an adrenaline guy I want to start throwing, but looking back it was an awesome gesture,” said Gillies.

Now it’s back to the grind trying to make those big league dreams a reality, but with a different appreciation for how bumpy the road can be.

“Get back to what I know I can be. Have a good healthy offseason this year, and come into spring training next year trying really to make an impression and go from there. For people going through that, it’s definitely helps to look at somebody. Sure I’m an example, I came back to the highest level of baseball. Some people don’t think they’re going to get past cancer, and it’s something you can do, and get back to a normal life and maybe even a better life,” said Gillies.

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