THE (BASE­BALL) LIFE OF REILLY

The In­ter­county Base­ball League’s home-run king hopes to one day trade his bat for a fire­fighter’s axe

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY PHIL AN­DREWS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY ALISHA TOWNSEND

Lau­ren Scap­inello’s home has an in­ter­est­ing spare bed­room – par­tic­u­larly for some­one who didn’t grow up with any sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est in base­ball. Framed jer­seys of for­mer Ma­jor League Base­ball le­gends Pete Rose and Jose Canseco dom­i­nate one wall of this base­ment room. Another has racked wooden bats on dis­play. They adorn a spot be­side a plaque – fash­ioned in the shape of a home plate.

Another wall fea­tures framed and mounted news­pa­per ar­ti­cles about an In­ter­county Base­ball League player. Shelves of game-marked balls set off another. Many of the red-stitched leather spheres have wood-grain-pat­terned paint tat­toos left by bats.

In a cor­ner are two wooden cu­bi­cles that ap­pear wrested from a base­ball locker room. Clus­tered at the foot of those stalls is a thicket of bats – some la­belled with dates and game de­tails. At the fore­front is a gleam­ing, un­marked, gold-plated bat.

That doesn’t even get to the closet, where dozens of base­ball jer­seys – from an ar­ray of teams and dif­fer­ent leagues – form a multi-coloured, hang­ing cur­tain.

“It’s in the back room. So, it’s OK there,” says Scap­inello, 36. “It’s won­der­ful – as long as he keeps it there, it’s fine.”

“He” is Scap­inello’s hus­band. That’s Sean Reilly.

If you’re un­fa­mil­iar with the name, put it this way: Reilly is the In­ter­county Base­ball League’s ver­sion of Babe Ruth. Ex­cept un­like the ro­tund Ruth, this home-run champ – the In­ter­county League’s all-time leader – is a chis­elled Bun­yan of a man.

In fact, given his long, multi-lo­ca­tion im­pact on the semi-pro league’s records, maybe a bet­ter metaphor would be Crash Davis, the fic­tional mi­nor-league home-run king played by Kevin Cost­ner in the base­ball cult film “Bull Durham.”

Last sea­son, play­ing for the Kitch­ener Pan­thers, Reilly was the In­ter­county League’s most valu­able player for the fourth time since 2011. And, ear­lier this year, he was listed as one of the In­ter­county’s 100 all-time greats in cel­e­bra­tion of the league’s cen­ten­nial an­niver­sary.

Scap­inello, a life­long res­i­dent of Guelph who works as a med­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tor in Stu­dent Ser­vices at Con­estoga Col­lege’s Doon Cam­pus, met her hus­band-to-be in 2005. It hap­pened when she tagged along with her best friend to the home of that chum’s boyfriend. The boyfriend was a house­mate of Reilly’s and a fel­low mem­ber of that year’s Guelph Roy­als team in the In­ter­county League.

Reilly, who turns 41 in June, looks back with amuse­ment at how the game he is mar­ried to played into him find­ing the woman he mar­ried – a spouse who is not a fa­nat­i­cal fol­lower of his sport.

“Lau­ren re­ally doesn’t know much about the game of base­ball,” he says. “But she learns. And, she’s a good sport.”

She cer­tainly is. Since they met – the cou­ple mar­ried in 2011 – Scap­inello has var­i­ously sup­ported her part­ner’s pas­sion to play and to star in the In­ter­county loop. It is a commitment she has up­held even as Reilly left Guelph to play in Bar­rie, then Toronto, then, for the past four years, in Kitch­ener.

“Since the be­gin­ning, it’s al­ways been

base­ball,” she says. “It’s some­thing I sort of adapted to – because it wasn’t ac­tu­ally a sport that I was in­ter­ested in at the be­gin­ning.”

Scap­inello ad­mits it has been “try­ing” at times to sup­port Reilly’s commitment to the game, es­pe­cially since the ar­rival of their chil­dren, Ai­den, 6, and Ryenn, who will turn two in the mid­dle of May. Scap­inello says her fam­ily helps out “a ton” with the kids when base­ball de­mands call Reilly away.

How­ever, the whole base­ball thing is man­age­able, she says. It comes with a sched­ule. Cal­en­dars can be de­vel­oped. Plan­ning can help make the sea­son – as well as the work­out-sat­u­rated off-sea­son – go more smoothly.

She’s also quick to point out that base­ball gives to the house­hold as well.

“I couldn’t imag­ine life with­out base­ball now,” she says. “Base­ball just makes (Sean) happy. If he’s had a stress­ful day, he’ll go to base­ball and he feels bet­ter.

“And I also love what he’s bring­ing about base­ball to our son. I can see him some­times coach­ing him and that’s al­ways been Sean’s sort of dream – to bring his kids out or start coach­ing them. In the fu­ture, if he’s not a player, he’ll be in a coach­ing po­si­tion. So, I feel like it’s al­ways go­ing to be in our lives.”

Reilly al­most re­tired about 13 years ago. That would have ended a ca­reer that be­gan in earnest when he was drafted by Ma­jor League Base­ball’s Min­nesota Twins in 1995. He was a pitcher back then and, at six-feet, 180 pounds, a “skinny rail,” he says. Those days are over. He’s since mor­phed into a ripped body­builderesque fig­ure car­ry­ing about 230 pounds. Some­times more.

The big-league dream fiz­zled af­ter two mi­nor-league sea­sons with the Twins farm club in Fort My­ers, Florida. The ex­pe­ri­ence be­gan poorly with an el­bow in­jury to his throw­ing arm – be­fore he even pitched in his first pro game – and went on to in­clude plenty of times when, Reilly says, “life pretty much sucked.”

He points out that he was a teenager with a job – base­ball – and com­pet­ing against men, of­ten with a lot more bulk and ex­pe­ri­ence. Plus, he was a long way from his Hamil­ton-area home and sup­port net­work.

Reilly re­turned to Canada and ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion to come out for the Hamil­ton club in the In­ter­county League the next sum­mer.

The ex­pe­ri­ence re­vived his love for the sport. It also de­liv­ered a locker-room lift from peers he had more in com­mon with and an at­tach­ment to the team­work and ca­ma­raderie he found in the ven­er­a­ble, elite, On­tario base­ball cir­cuit.

He dropped pitch­ing to play ev­ery day and to return to bat­ting. That was some­thing he had en­joyed prior to go­ing pro, with some suc­cess, but lit­tle power. His hit­ting picked up, though he wasn’t a slug­ger.

In 2004, he was part of the Guelph Roy­als when the team won the In­ter­county cham­pi­onship, a win Reilly de­scribes as “awe­some” and “amaz­ing.” Yet, within a year, he was pon­der­ing an early exit from the league.

“I just felt slug­gish. I kind of wasn’t re­ally into it,” he says. “Then, I made a choice.”

The choice was to fol­low the ex­am­ple and guid­ance of a Guelph team­mate – Kyle Leon, who was, in the words of Reilly: “re­ally into fit­ness and nu­tri­tion.” The men started go­ing to the gym to­gether and Reilly started to see a dif­fer­ence.

“When you start see­ing those re­sults, it kind of mo­ti­vates you,” he says. “And you keep go­ing and go­ing, and I found that as I got in bet­ter shape I was per­form­ing bet­ter on the base­ball field. You know, I just wanted to push my­self to see how far I could get. And, you know, that’s when a few of the records kind of came tum­bling down.”

Reilly says he started work­ing out six days a week – twice a day – and plan­ning and pre­par­ing healthy meals, a week ahead of time.

“I also grew up. I ma­tured,” he says, adding that the ar­rival of kids and day-job de­mands have seen him cut back on his work­out reg­i­men and strict eat­ing rou­tine. He even al­lows him­self a bit of McDonald’s and “the odd slice of pizza.”

These days, he says, he prob­a­bly “only” gets to the gym three to five times a week.

Dave teBoekhorst, who has played with and man­aged Reilly for sev­eral years – and will do so again, in Guelph this sum­mer – says Reilly has made huge sac­ri­fices over a

20-year ca­reer.

TeBoekhorst says it’s not just the commitment to a work­out reg­i­men, but also the sum­mer va­ca­tion time and other fam­ily time given over to base­ball.

“Your sum­mers are sac­ri­ficed. When a lot of guys are jump­ing on the Sea-doo and go­ing to the cot­tage, that’s our bread and but­ter time for go­ing to the ball­park,” teBoekhorst says.

Reilly is proud of his “man cave.” He says ev­ery house he’s lived in has had one. And when he speaks of the cave in the home where he and Scap­inello re­side, in Guelph’s south end, he’s not speak­ing of its base­ball grotto/dis­play case of a spare bed­room. He’s speak­ing of another base­ment space – a rus­tic, Tex­as­styled saloon, a bar re­plete with mounted longhorns.

But that’s not the only note­wor­thy dé­cor. Just as promi­nent is a fire­fighter axe and hel­met dis­played large on its fo­cal wall.

“Right now, my fo­cus is on fire­fight­ing,” says Reilly, who is pur­su­ing a ca­reer in the field with the same, well, fire, that he has given for years to base­ball.

He has taken cour­ses to be li­censed to drive fire trucks. He has taken spe­cial­ized med­i­cal classes and cour­ses in the craft of fire­fight­ing it­self. In 2015, he grad­u­ated from the Texas A & M Fire En­gi­neer­ing Pro­gram in Col­lege Sta­tion.

“For me, it’s a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion from base­ball to fire­fight­ing because they’re so sim­i­lar when it comes to the locker room and the team­work. So, I’m re­ally hop­ing that that works out,” says Reilly, who cur­rently works as an elec­tri­cal ap­pren­tice. That fol­lowed an al­most 10-year stint as a Slee­man Brew­eries em­ployee, in­clud­ing years as a beer-keg de­liv­ery driver.

“I would love for him to be­come a fire­fighter,” says Scap­inello. “He’s got such a pas­sion for it, and I know he would do a fan­tas­tic job. We’re cross­ing our fin­gers and hop­ing that will come true soon.”

The hus­band and wife ap­pre­ci­ate that land­ing a full-time fire­fight­ing job could do what decades of In­ter­county League op­po­nents have failed to do: knock him out of the game.

He may have to in­ter­rupt his base­ball sched­ule this sea­son on a few oc­ca­sions as he says he re­cently signed on with the Puslinch Fire and Res­cue Ser­vice. This in­volves be­ing on call and avail­able to re­spond to emer­gen­cies as needed but he hopes to be able to tweak that sched­ule to limit the loss of base­ball time.

So, as he finds a way to swing fire duty and swing a bat as of­ten as the sched­ules of the dream job and the base­ball worlds per­mit, the In­ter­county League’s great­est bat­ter is also fac­ing re­al­ity.

“I haven’t said it of­fi­cially. But, play­ing­wise, there’s a good chance that this will be my last year. If this unique op­por­tu­nity with Guelph didn’t come up this year, I don’t even know if I would be play­ing this sum­mer,” says Reilly.

The Guelph “op­por­tu­nity” is at once sim­ple and com­pli­cated. A year af­ter the Roy­als club folded in mid-sea­son, a new

own­er­ship regime has built the foun­da­tion for a ro­bust team re­boot in 2018. It has brought in sev­eral ex-Roy­als stars as play­ers and teBoekhorst to man­age – all individuals with Guelph con­nec­tions – to try to re­vive the fran­chise.

“This year is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” says Reilly. “I want to win a cham­pi­onship. . . . The last time I won a cham­pi­onship was 2004 with Guelph. That’s a feel­ing I’m not ever go­ing to for­get. I would love to do that again – es­pe­cially here. So, I mean, it’s go­ing to be a tough road and ob­vi­ously I’m just glad to be part of get­ting this team back on track.”

Scap­inello is look­ing for­ward to this sum­mer and get­ting out to more games. It will be easier now that their youngest child is a bit older, she says, and with Reilly’s home games be­ing, well, close to home – for a change.

“I ac­tu­ally en­joy the fact that he’s back (play­ing) in Guelph so peo­ple can know his skill level and how good of a player he is. I feel like not enough peo­ple in this com­mu­nity know about it,” she says.

Afew of Reilly’s old Roy­als jer­seys hang among those in the closet of his be­low-ground base­ball bed­room. Also vis­i­ble is one of the caps he wore when he played for the club. Its bril­liant blue has faded to dull. It’s stained. It looks shrunken to sizes too small to fit his head. And, yet, it’s a val­ued ar­ti­fact.

Reilly can see the end of his play­ing days – the end of adding record-break­ing sou­venirs and tro­phies to his trove of such items.

“I love be­ing around the guys in the locker room,” he says. “When it’s all said and done, that’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be the part that I miss the most. I mean, those re­la­tion­ships you build and those mem­o­ries, those are some of the best mem­o­ries of my life.”

Scap­inello says she wor­ries about when Reilly walks away from play­ing in the In­ter­county League.

“I feel like he would miss it tremen­dously. I’d worry about his men­tal health a lit­tle bit. You know what I mean – like that’s his love,” she says.

“He’s al­ways got to be part of some kind of team. I know that when the IBL does end and he does start coach­ing his son or some­thing like that, he’ll def­i­nitely also find some men’s league or some­thing to play in, which I’m happy for him to do.”

Un­til then, the fam­ily will look for­ward to hear­ing from Reilly’s full-time fire de­part­ment ap­pli­ca­tions and pon­der what the ninth in­ning of his long base­ball ca­reer might hold.

“You know, hope­fully we’ll get those fans back and give us the sup­port that we used to have,” Reilly says. “When I first came into the league, Guelph used to be a place to be. I re­mem­ber when I was with Hamil­ton and we would come into Guelph, there would be 2,000 peo­ple there. That at­mo­sphere was elec­tric, and it just seemed to slowly wear down year af­ter year.

“I’m con­fi­dent that with get­ting those old play­ers back that the fans are go­ing to start to come back again.”

PHOTO BY AN­NIE SAKKAB

Sean Reilly, then a Kitch­ener Pan­ther, cel­e­brates a 2015 home run as he rounds the bases.

Sean Reilly played four award-win­ning sea­sons with the Kitch­ener Pan­thers, cementing his place among the best play­ers in In­ter­county League his­tory.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.