WILMINGTON — Back in early June, Jackson Gillis was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball Draft. At that time, he was asked if he was going to sign a professional contract or return for his senior year at Vanderbilt University and he was reluctant to say that, "we think that we will have a good chance of playing until the end June, but we have to first get through super regionals. That's all we care about right now."
Indeed that happened. The wild ride continued as the Commodores won the National Championship title. Now nearly two weeks from that celebration, Gillis announced his decision.
"I have decided that I'm going to move forward and sign with the Brewers," he said in a phone interview last Wednesday. "I'm planning on flying out to Arizona or Milwaukee (this week) and I'll have my physical and I plan on signing my contract and everything. It's still in the works, but that's how it's looking."
Gillis becomes the sixth player (all pitchers) from Wilmington to enter professional baseball. He follows Jeff Williamson, who pitched for several years in the Baltimore Orioles system between A and AA; Rick Froton, who pitched two years for the Red Sox Single-A level; Jason Bere was selected in the 36th round of the 1990 draft and pitched 12 seasons in the big leagues in the mid 1990s; Mike Alonardo who pitched a year in the Independent League and then Stephen Peterson, who grew up in Danvers but has extensive family in Wilmington. He pitched five seasons in the Brewers Organization from 2011-16, reaching AAA, appearing in 201 games, all as a reliever, finishing with a 25-16 record, 9 saves and a 3.16 ERA.
Gillis won't know which team he will be assigned to until after he takes his physical, signs his contract and meets with the Brewers administrators and coaches, but no matter where he lands, he is ecstatic about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I'm thankful that the organization is enabling me to live out my lifelong dream," he said. "I will not take anything for granted. It'll be great once I get there. I'm going to work my hardest and do everything I can to keep progressing on and off the field. Hopefully down the line, I'm able to move up the ladder (in the organization), but for me, it's just such a thrill to be able to play professional baseball."
Gillis is coming off a season at Vanderbilt where he logged just seven innings. The team's head coach Tom Corbin was asked if that was common, having a collegiate player throw seven innings all season and get drafted in the 13th round.
"We have seen that before mostly because of the depth of our pitching staff and talent on our staffs. We had a kid pitch two innings for us (several years ago) and he got drafted pretty high. It's just with this type of staff, the talent that they all have, it's not easy to pitch every single one of them," said Corbin.
Corbin had a sit down meeting with Gillis — and 12 other Vanderbilt players who were also drafted — after the completion of the season and the two chatted about a lot of things including the possibility of leaving college for days pro ball.
"I have full belief in every single one of those kids (who will turn pro),” said Corbin. “They all have the talent to do whatever they want. If we think it's a move that will benefit them, then yes I back them (100 percent). Jack has been on (scouts) radar ever since his sophomore year (n college). They have felt that he's the type of kid who would be high on their lists.”
Gillis was asked about leaving Vanderbilt and what happens next academically?
"This coming fall in the off-season, I plan on going back to Vanderbilt, living with some of my teammates, or former teammates now I guess, and training at the facilities at Vanderbilt and take some classes to work towards my degree," he said. "I'll probably end up taking three classes and I roughly have three semesters left to get my degree."
He is working towards a BS in 'American Studies'.
"I have always wanted to coach and to help people," he said. "I want to do something where I'm always helping others, whether it's baseball or something else. I have always envisioned myself being a coach so who knows what will happen later on down the road? My mom is a teacher and I can definitely see myself getting into that field, but right now I definitely want to (eventually) coach or be a teacher — do something where I can help others in that regard."
Excluding Peterson, there's only one other person from Wilmington in the last three decades who signed a professional contract and played for an affiliated minor league baseball team.
Gillis becomes the second.
"I'm glad to be able to be that person from Wilmington who has gone on to a major university, play for a major program, now to move on and to play professional baseball," he said. "I'm blessed to be from Wilmington and to say all of that. There's a lot of kids here in town who have shared the same dreams. This just shows that if you work hard enough and you focus on getting better and doing the things that you need to do, that it doesn't matter where you are from or what you do because you can make something out of anything you want as long as you put your mind to it."