Northeast Times

At 45, Gies’ love of the game keeps him playing

Chris Gies nearly became the Phillies Opening Night starter in 1995; he’s still playing, passing on his knowledge to his two sons.

For love of the game: Chris Gies (cen­ter) with sons Ry­an (left) and Dav­id. At 45, Gies still plays semi-pro ball, with Dav­id as one of his team­mates. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF CHRIS GIES

Nearly 20 years ago, Chris Gies came this close to be­ing named the Open­ing Night starter for his be­loved Phil­lies.

In the present day, the 45-year-old Gies is still com­pet­ing at the semi-pro level. The fact that it’s not un­der the bright lights of Cit­izens Bank Park is ir­rel­ev­ant; when base­ball is in your blood, walk­ing away is nev­er easy.

Gies, who grew up down the street from Vo­gt Play­ground in Ta­cony, gradu­ated from Fath­er Judge in 1987, help­ing the Cru­saders to Cath­ol­ic League titles in his sopho­more and seni­or cam­paigns. His suc­cess on the mound at Judge led him to Temple Uni­versity. He was draf­ted in the 49th round of the 1989 Ma­jor League Base­ball Draft by the Hou­s­ton As­tros, but op­ted not to sign with the team. 

“When I got draf­ted, I hon­estly didn’t think I was ready for it,” Gies said dur­ing a Monday af­ter­noon in­ter­view at Chick­ie’s & Pete’s in South Phil­adelphia. “I thought if I gave it an­oth­er year, it would really start click­ing for me.”

It did. Gies de­cided to take his tal­ents far from Philly, end­ing up at Semi­n­ole State Col­lege in Ok­lahoma, a known “base­ball fact­ory” at the ju­ni­or col­lege level. Gies de­veloped his best pitch, a changeup, at Semi­n­ole, and the team was ranked No. 1 in the coun­try at one point. 

Gies was draf­ted again in the 1990 MLB Draft, this time by the Texas Rangers in the 38th round. He had a strong in­aug­ur­al sea­son in Rook­ie Ball for his team in Butte, Montana, toss­ing five com­plete games in 14 starts. He bounced back and forth at the minor league level, get­ting as high as AA ball throughout parts of the 1991-93 sea­sons. He pitched fairly well and par­ti­cip­ated in spring train­ing with the Rangers, but was ul­ti­mately re­leased.

“They say that once you get draf­ted that all the pro­spects are the same, but that’s really not the case,” he said. “Guys like me that are draf­ted in the lower rounds have to work much harder. The guy who gets $500,000 will get a longer look than a guy they give $1,000 and a plane tick­et to. When you’re a low-round pick and you struggle, the team doesn’t have as much money in­ves­ted in you, so you have to take ad­vant­age right away and do your job.”

Gies struggled in his fi­nal go-round with the Rangers’ AA team in Tulsa in 1993, go­ing 1-5 with a 5.02 ERA in 26 games (eight starts). After Texas re­leased him, he said he got some calls from some in­de­pend­ent league teams, but that it wasn’t for him.

“Double-A is kind of when I lost my feel for it,” he said. “That’s usu­ally the level where you fig­ure it out. If you get out of AA, you’ve got a shot to make it to the big leagues, but I couldn’t get over that hump.”

Gies’ first child, Jac­queline, was born in 1990, and he mar­ried his wife, Roseanne, in the fall of 1993. At that junc­ture in his life, “I had a fam­ily to raise, so I had to go out and find some work.”

But fate stepped in dur­ing the 1994 base­ball sea­son, when a play­er strike wiped out the rest of sea­son from Aug. 12 on­ward, can­celing the en­tire post­season, in­clud­ing the World Series. With no pro­gress be­ing made early in 1995, MLB ap­proved the use of re­place­ment play­ers for spring train­ing and the reg­u­lar sea­son if the strike was not re­solved in time.

Gies figured that if it was something he was go­ing to do, then why not try to latch on to his ho­met­own team? He was in­vited to the Phil­lies’ spring train­ing in Clear­wa­ter and pitched well; in six ap­pear­ances — four starts — Gies went 1-1 with a 3.05 ERA, in­clud­ing fir­ing a two-hit­ter against Texas, the team that had draf­ted and re­leased him. 

However, the strike was ul­ti­mately re­solved in April, and the Phil­lies didn’t keep any of the fill-in play­ers. Gies said he har­bored no bit­ter­ness, say­ing that in the end, he had no de­lu­sions of grandeur of be­com­ing a Phil­lie. Base­ball was us­ing the re­place­ment play­ers as a scare tac­tic, something that Gies un­der­stood.

“It wasn’t that shock­ing,” Gies said. “It was a great ex­per­i­ence pitch­ing for the team I grew up watch­ing, and the coaches who were there, guys like Larry Bowa and John Vukovich, they were great. They nev­er treated us any dif­fer­ently.”

After his suc­cess­ful spring train­ing, Gies was slated to start the Phil­lies’ first game in St. Louis. They had sold 30,000 tick­ets to the game, and the op­por­tun­ity of a life­time was so close to real­ity.

“It was great to gear up for, but in the back of my mind I knew it wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen,” Gies said. “I nev­er went in think­ing I was a Phil­lie. I just wanted to do well enough to get a minor league con­tract some­where to try again. When you don’t get to where you want to be, it’s tough, no mat­ter what you do.”

Gies’ big-league dreams nev­er came to fruition, and he came back home to his fam­ily and friends, who were his biggest sup­port­ers throughout the pro­cess. He began a ca­reer with the postal ser­vice in 1997, a job he still works as a su­per­visor. Gies and his fam­ily — sons Dav­id, 18, and Ry­an, 13, came after Jac­queline — settled in Mul­lica Hill, N.J.

Des­pite com­ing up short in the pros, Gies still to this day plays semi-pro ball in the sum­mer; he’s played in the Perkio­men Twi­light League and cur­rently is part of the Pen-Del League for a team called LOMA. Aside from a gap between ages 41-43 when he sat out with an arm in­jury, Gies has played every sum­mer.

Now, at 45, he’s still pitch­ing for LOMA, mainly due to the fact that his old­est son, Dav­id, is also on the team. Dav­id and his young­er broth­er are also base­ball play­ers, so Chris gets to pass down his know­ledge and ex­per­i­ence to his own chil­dren, something he said is a ma­jor thrill for him.

“It’s great to see Dav­id play and help him out,” Gies said. “I just want to give both of my sons as much know­ledge as I can without com­ing off as over­bear­ing or pushy. Maybe I can hang around for an­oth­er four years un­til I can get Ry­an on the team.”

Gies also said he en­joys help­ing young­er team­mates de­vel­op, in­clud­ing re­cent loc­al grads like Bobby Ro­mano (Arch­bish­op Ry­an) and Aus­tin Mikula (Fath­er Judge). 

He loves the com­pet­i­tion and ca­marader­ie that base­ball provides, and that he couldn’t ima­gine where his life would be today without the game he loves. Gies said he’ll know when it’s time to hang it up, be it due to in­jury or simply be­ing un­able to get any­one out. Either way, he’s thank­ful for the ride.

“When I was as young as 5 years old, it was the dream to play pro base­ball,” Gies said. “It’s in my blood. You meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends, and if you’re lucky you get to a spot where a lot of oth­ers don’t. If I can still be suc­cess­ful and have my kids in­volved, I don’t see any reas­on to stop.

“When Jac­qui was born the year I was draf­ted, she was my in­spir­a­tion to be the best I could be. My wife has been by my side for 25 years, even when things wer­en’t glam­our­ous. My moth­er and broth­er Mi­chael, who both passed away in the last year, were my biggest sup­port­ers. All of that plus my sons are why I’m still play­ing. I’m a lot more sore in the morn­ing, but you know what? I’ll be out there the next game we play.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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