APPLETON — A story of perseverance. It was only fitting that today when Minor League Baseball and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers kicked off their ‘Hope at Bat’ initiative that they had relief pitcher Tyler Gillies to be a player representative when they held their press conference yesterday.
The initiative is to raise funds and awareness to combat cancer as Minor League Baseball teams up with the American Cancer Society.
“Very proud that the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and minor league baseball as a whole are starting this sponsorship,” said Gillies. “Even being a small part of that is great for me.”
Three years ago, Gillies was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
“A panic,” Gillies said he felt when he was first diagnosed. “As a 24-year-old you never expect to hear you’ve got cancer, especially as a professional athlete. I thought I was pretty healthy at that time.”
In May of 2020, Gillies had won his battle with the cancer then it returned a few months later.
“(In) September we confirmed it was a relapse and then started the next chemo regimen in October and then got my stem cell transplant January 5th,” he said.
During that time Gillies weight dropped significantly. Before he got cancer, he was between 210 and 220 pounds. He dropped down to 160. He wasn't allowed to exercise because during the stem cell transplant, you’re not producing your own blood.
“If you would have asked me in the middle of my stem cell transplant what it would be like to get back on the mound, I wasn't sure I would be able to get back there,” said Gillies. “There were definitely some low points.”
After finishing all the treatments he needed in June of 2021 and beating the cancer for a second time – it would take a while to get healthy enough to pitch again.
“During a stem cell transplant you’re not producing your own blood, so no exercise, no nothing and honestly right now, it still takes some time to get back in shape, gain that velocity. get the shoulder health, the feel for my mechanics after that long of,” he said. “We’re still working on it, but we’ve made a lot of progress.”
On april 16 in the bottom of the sixth inning in a game at Beloit, Gillies returned to the mound for his first game-action in nearly 3 years.
“I was going a little crazy,” Said Gillies. “I hadn’t pitched for like the first week and that first time I got on the mound was three years since I got on the mound with the Timber Rattlers the first time.”
He received a standing ovation, but all the reliever wanted to do was pump a pitch into the mitt of his catcher.
“That was pretty cool for me, I wasn't expecting it, I just wanted to pitch at that point, so I didn't take it in as much as I should have. But still, being out there being able to throw a pitch was amazing,” said Gillies.
Gillies said he wouldn’t be here without the immense amount of support from the brewers organization, his family, friends and basically everyone who is in his life.
The Timber Rattlers are hosting their own ‘Hope at Bat’ game Thursday August 11.
If you would like to learn more about 'Hope at Bat' you can click on this link.