PBL Profile: Rob Gillrie
Posted January 31, 2020
One of the Powerline Baseball League’s most recognizable names for decades was Rob Gillrie. An old school baseball player who spent his career playing the game the right way and with a passion for the game and a competitiveness that was matched by few. A career that spanned forty years and included time with the Tofield Lakers, the Powerline Brewers, the Bardo Athletics and recently the Tofield Braves.
During Rob’s career he found himself in the two of the best rivalries that the PBL has seen. Through the 1990s the Ryley Rebels and Tofield Lakers often found themselves in a playoff series including battling for the PBL Championship. From 1994 to 1997 the Ryley Rebels and the Tofield Lakers would battle for the PBL Championship with Ryley winning three and Tofield one. At the turn of the century Rob would find himself in a classic senior men’s baseball battle of the ages, literally. It was the veteran Powerline Brewers against the young Bardo Athletics. Memorable games and memorable series as well as some off the field jabs by each team were the norm during those years.
(Rob suited up for the Bardo Athletics at the 2013 Canadian National Old Timers Baseball Federation Championships in St Albert/Edmonton)
The Gillrie’s are a ball family through and through. From Rob and his wife, to his daughters and now his grandsons, a Gillrie has been on the field for decades and will continue to be on a ball field for years to come. Here is Rob’s interview:
What was your baseball background prior to playing in the Powerline Baseball League?
Prior to the Powerline Baseball League I had played minor ball as a kid growing up in Tofield. As a young adult before joining the Powerline League I played mostly fastpitch softball in Edmonton.
When did you start playing in the Powerline Baseball League and with which team? How did you get involved with that team?
I first played in the Powerline Baseball League a few games with the Lakers in the early 1980s when I was in high school and before going off to college. I joined the Tofield Lakers again when I was 28 years old in 1994 after my wife and I moved back to our hometown to raise our family.
What teams did play for in the Powerline Baseball League during your career?
I played with the Tofield Lakers from 1994 to the year 2000. I joined the Brewers in 2001 and played 5 years with them before “retiring” to spend more time coaching my daughters teams. I came out of “retirement” for one game in 2014 to join up with Bardo in a league game against the Armena Royals. Last season I got the call from Dylan and Corey to play full time again with the Tofield Braves.
Do you remember your first game in the Powerline Baseball League?
I do remember my first game in the league, it would have been when I was maybe 16 years old back in the late 1980’s. I was playing with the Lakers and I remember going up to bat against Don Oslund. The old guys on the team told me he would probably throw a curve ball that would look like it was going to hit me, but to stay in there and when it broke over the plate to swing. I had no idea what they were talking about, but took their advice. Don threw a fast ball that came right at me, I didn’t move and got drilled with it. Probably the only time I was ever hit by a pitch by Don. His control was much better in later years!
What was that first year of Powerline Baseball League baseball like for you?
I still think of my real first year as 1994. When I started playing I immediately loved the league, I loved the competitiveness of it. I just loved playing period. A practice was as much fun as a game! That really hasn’t ever changed for me.
How did the Powerline Baseball League change during your years in the league?
I saw huge changes over the years that I played. I remember when I first started as a rookie you just really didn’t play much. I think the teams do a much better job of that now making sure that the guys showing up to a game get playing time. That’s important so guys keep coming back. Obviously the rules are much clearer now. The change to wooden bats is probably the biggest difference. As far as competitiveness, I think that’s changed too. Teams have more pitching depth now, and there are good hitters on most teams from the top to the bottom of the line-up.
Brian Lyons (Powerline Brewers) raced for home as Rob Gillrie (Tofield Lakers) reaches for the ball (the ball won). photo A.MacLean, Tofield Mercury, July 21, 1998
Is there a specific game or games that come to mind as being memorable for you during your time in the Powerline Baseball League?
I have so many memories. Some things that still stand out for me would be the time I was catching a game in Morinville against a junior team. About half way through the game we made a pitching change and Dave “Meathead” Carlson came in for us. He was warming up and throwing knuckleballs, and he could really make the ball dance. These kids were lighting up on the bench, I could hear them getting excited because Meathead was throwing so slow. The first kid comes up to bat, Meathead throws a knuckleball, the guys swings so hard he almost falls over, and the pitch hits him in the chest. He drops his bat and starts walking to first base before the ump calls him back with one strike. It was hilarious, I’m sure those kids had never seen a knuckleball before.
I once hit 3 home runs in one playoff game against Bardo. I remember the pitcher but won’t say who it was. Editors Note: According to the July 22, 1997 Tofield Mercury with information submitted by Ray Lehman, Rob would hit three home runs and collect seven RBIs in the Tofield Lakers 12-0 game one win over the Bardo Athletics in their semi-final series. No mention of who the Bardo Athletics pitcher was however.
I was playing first base in an all-star game one year in Camrose, and Curtis Stensrud had a 3 pitch inning. I couldn’t believe the third batter actually swung at the first pitch after the first two guys went out on one pitch.
I remember hitting a hard drive to left in Ryley, which I thought was going to be a home run. I didn’t run hard out of the box, and the ball hit the top of the fence. I thought I better move it and at least take the double. A young outfielder picked the ball up and fired a rope to second, I was out by a mile, I didn’t even slide. I’d never seen an arm like that! (do you remember throwing that ball Kushnerick?)
I always loved the tournaments, especially Bardo and Tofield’s. One of the best times ever was when I organized a bit of an “all-star” team to go to a tournament in Goodfish Lake. We won all our games, each pitcher had complete games for us. Ken Parent, Ray Lehman, Curtis Stensrud and then Don Oslund pitched the final. We won a bunch of cash and some hand made warmup jackets. I still have mine.
Was there a pitcher in the Powerline Baseball League that you perhaps dreaded facing or just had your number for some reason?
Of course Don Oslund and Curtis Stensrud come to mind. They were always tough, and probably won almost every game they pitched. The one guy though that when I think back on it that I never had success against was Armena’s Scott Pederson. I always went up to bat feeling confident, he never intimidated me, but he could just flat out pitch. I doubt I ever squared up a ball against him. Weak ground outs, lazy fly ball, he was a great pitcher.
If you pitched in the Powerline Baseball League, was there a particular hitter that you had a tough time getting out? Who was it and why were they successful against you?
I never really pitched. One year the night before a game at Ryley Sports Day Don Oslund taught me how to throw a curve ball. The next day I pitched a shut-out against I think Camrose or maybe Armena. I suspect the batters timing was way off because of how slow I was throwing! I should have never tried pitching again because it was all downhill after that.
How would you describe the difference between the regular season and those best of three series in the playoffs?
Still there is no comparison between a regular season and a playoff game. That’s what great about sports, and it’s the same in the Powerline League.
What was the most memorable playoff run like?
The first year I played for the Lakers in 1994 we won the Championship. I believe we made the finals the next 3 years but lost them all to Ryley. At least one of those years against Ryley we intentionally walked Ray Lehman every time he came up to bat. They still beat us! The first year I was with the Brewers we won the championship as well. I think we made the finals the following year but lost out to Armena.
(Gillrie joined the Tofield Braves in 2019)
Was there a particular rivalry that you were involved in that was memorable and why was it so memorable?
The biggest rivalry when I first joined the league was as a Laker was against Ryley. We met for a few years in a row in the finals, and they usually won. The rivalry I remember best was probably as a Brewer playing against Bardo. They were young, we were old. I think they hated us more than we hated them, we just expected to win, and they were still learning how to. Once some of them were old enough to join us in Kindersley and at provincial tournaments the rivalry settled down, or at least the way we looked at one another. It seems like its true in all sport that the guys you hated the most when you were playing against them became your favourites when you got to play together.
As a predominately rural baseball league, there are some stories (perhaps tall tales) that have been told over the course of the Powerline Baseball League’s history. Are there any stories that you have heard, seen yourself or know about that would be great to share with the community?
I wasn’t there, but I was told about Pat Kallal throwing a ball from centre field fence about half way up the backstop in a skills competition maybe in Kindersley or at Provincials somewhere. Not sure its true, but I also heard he really hurt his arm and wasn’t the same again after.
What was your favourite baseball field to play on?
Of course my favourite was my home diamond in Tofield. When I first started playing we did almost all of the maintenance ourselves. Nothing was better than sitting in the dugout looking at the diamond all ready to go for a game or tournament.
Did you ever participate in a tournament hosted by a Powerline Baseball League team? Were there any memorable moments that have stuck with you about those tournaments?
All of them!
Could you tell us a little about your time on the League Executive?
I think I was on the league executive for a few years, but can’t really remember.
How has baseball remained a part of your life after or outside of your Powerline Baseball League playing days and what is in store for you in the future?
Baseball is a big part of my life, and still is. From when I first started playing, to when I took time off to coach. I didn’t think I would ever stop playing myself, but eventually it became more rewarding to watch my wife and daughters play. Kim still plays on the Tofield Triggers fastpitch team with all 3 of our daughters, Bethany, Alyssa and Cassidy. In 2019 when I joined the Braves again we had our whole family playing for Tofield teams, including our two grandsons who played on the minor ball teams.
The Gillrie Family
Ask anyone who played against Rob and you are likely to hear stories about a fierce competitor on the field who was all business between the foul lines and someone who was more that willing to talk baseball off the field.
A big thank you to Rob for taking the time to answer some questions for us and share some stories of a golden age of Powerline Baseball League action.