By JOE McFARLAND
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
Those famous words in “Closing Time” by Semisonic seemingly echo true for Regan Gillis.
The Fort McMurray-born pitcher is hoping that a new beginning in baseball will close the book on the first chapter of his baseball career.
2016 started with in Kamloops with the Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack of the Canadian College Baseball Conference. He then took his services back to his hometown Fort McMurray Giants of the Western Major Baseball League that summer.
But then, his name disappeared from the lineup sheet.
“Once I left baseball and school, it was kind of different,” the righthander recalled. “I had never been at that point in my life before where I wasn’t playing sports.”
His last season on the bump was rough. In his last playoff game with the Wolfpack on May 14, he lasted just two innings, giving up six runs en route to a 9-7 loss to fellow Fort McMurray product Ryan Dunn and the University of Calgary Dinos. With the Giants, Gillis pitched in 13 games, going 1-1 with a 6.50 ERA. His last outing was also a short one, as he gave up four runs in over four innings before things fell apart for the team in an 18-7 loss to the Okotoks Dawgs.
Gillis, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, needed a break. He went back home to Fort McMurray as he felt he needed a refresh, which led him to the sidelines for the 2017 season.
“You’re a little mentally and physically tired of it,” Gillis told Alberta Dugout Stories. “You take a step back and you just see it in a different perspective. You watch it instead of playing it.”
“It gets to the point where you’re not really enjoying going to the park every day,” Gillis said. “You don’t really like what you’re doing. At that point, there’s not really a reason to keep doing it.”
“So that’s where I was with it, then I took the time off and realized how much I missed it and loved it and wanted to get back into it,” he realized.
It didn’t take long before he found himself outside at a ball diamond again.
“I started playing around with my friends a little bit, throwing the ball and stuff and thought ‘man, I really miss this right now,'” Gillis reminisced.
He has since realized what he took for granted, especially being so involved in the sport all through high school and then four years of college, including his first year as a redshirt. Late last summer, Gillis decided he would try to come back for the January semester.
“I had a plan set up for when I was back home – days that I would throw and lifting days – in a way to get back into it just so I wouldn’t just get here and have to just start,” Gillis said. “Obviously, I was behind from a pitching perspective because I haven’t thrown live and haven’t done everything the boys have done.”
He utilized the facilities provided to him in Fort Mac and admits it was tough getting back into a routine, but knows that if he wants to be successful, he has to put in the work.
That work ethic hasn’t been lost on his coach, former California Angels and Edmonton Trappers pitcher Ray Chadwick.
“He’s looked good over the fall since coming back,” Chadwick told Alberta Dugout Stories. “It is a tough thing but he’s young and he stayed in shape.”
“I’m looking for some really big things from him,” he continued. “He’s probably three or four miles per hour harder right now than he was two years ago.”
“I’ve taken care of myself better this time around,” Gillis admitted. “You wanna do it properly.”
The Wolfpack are heading to Arizona for their annual stateside pilgrimage to take advantage of some better baseball weather. But Gillis won’t be joining them, as he stays at school to catch up on his studies and to keep getting ready to pitch in an actual game.
“He’s still going to come and get his work in and be ready to go when we get back but he’s going to be two weeks behind everybody else,” Chadwick said. “So he’s going to have to work twice as hard.”
But he doesn’t seem too concerned about the prospects of having Gillis back in the fold.
“He is a hard worker,” Chadwick said. “My thing is if you’re going to take a year off and you’re planning on coming back, you gotta work twice as hard and he has.”
Gillis has his eyes on a spot in the starting rotation after bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen in 2016. He admits it was a tough spot to be in, but with the work he’s putting in, he’s hopeful he can get the job done.
“I think I’m working pretty well and doing the right things to get back to there,” Gillis said. “I’m pretty happy where I’m at right now.”
And that’s where Gillis’ focus remains right now. It’s one step at a time for the 23-year-old. Could a return to his old stomping grounds of Shell Field in Fort McMurray be in the cards?
If he performs well and gets back to where he needs to be, he’s not ruling it out. Gillis has great memories of being a part of the Giants’ inaugural season.
“I loved it, I thought it was so much fun!” Gillis exclaimed. “I had elementary school teachers and old coaches, family, friends, everybody, coming out to the games, everybody’s getting excited, people are drinking beer in the stands.”
“It was a pretty cool feeling, honestly.”
Another line from that famous song comes to mind: “time for you to go back to the places you will be from.”