When the Guelph Royals decided they’d take a pass on playing in the Intercounty Baseball League this year, Sean Reilly thought his playing career might have reached an end.
Then the Toronto Maple Leafs came calling – the IBL baseball team, not the NHL team.
“I was honestly 89 per cent sure I wasn't going to play this year and then Damon Topolie from Toronto called me,” Reilly said during a virtual chat. “I was on my way to my buddy's house, actually, and that's something I never really get to do in the summer, go for a pool party on a weekend.
“I talked it over with my wife. It was something I thought I'd try out and see if it would work with the travel and everything. I just didn't want to be exhausted.”
The Guelph resident and longtime Royals player is a firefighter in Scarborough and it can be tough to get a work schedule, family time with wife Lauren, son Aiden and daughter Ryenn and an IBL team schedule to mesh.
“I'm happy I played,” Reilly said. “It's a little bit of a struggle just because of the condensed schedule.”
It is a hectic schedule this year with the Leafs starting their regular season July 9 and they’re slated to finish it Sept. 5 with their 29th game.
“There's a lot of games in a short amount of time,” Reilly said. “My son's playing, too, so I want to get out and see as many of his games as I can and with me being a firefighter in Toronto as well, it makes it a little difficult driving back and forth. There are some times I've slept in my car after a shift and waited for a game or gone right to my hall after a game and kind of slept there. Sometimes it works out and sometimes not so much, but I'm getting through and making it work.”
Reilly’s made it work so far with a hot start to his season. He led the league with a .464 batting average with 13 hits in 28 at bats in his first six games, missing two of Toronto’s games to that point. He also hit a homer, scored seven runs and drove in 12.
“For myself, personally, it's going pretty good,” he said. “I really didn't know what to expect after having that much time off and, obviously, getting older. I try to get comfortable in the batter's box as quickly as possible and I don't think I really have any pressure on myself because the lineup we have this year is pretty potent. We've got minor league guys up and down that lineup. I got comfortable pretty quick and I think it showed in the stats.”
With the IBL cancelling its 2020 season, Reilly’s baseball last year was limited to an exhibition game in London between the Royals and the London Majors so the Majors could keep a long streak of playing at Labatt Field alive and his participation in the Royals’ home run contest.
“The home run contest was probably the worst thing that could happen,” he said. “You know, going out there and trying to hit balls 400 feet after not doing anything. I felt it for the next couple of days, I'll tell you that.”
Surprising for many IBL fans is the fact that Reilly was drafted in the 29th round of the 1995 MLB draft as a pitcher and he played a couple of seasons on rookie ball in Florida before shoulder problems brought that to an end.
Does that pitching background help Reilly as a batter?
“I've always said I think it does,” he said. “I sometimes try to get inside the head of a pitcher and kind of think what I would do, but in the Intercounty you never know what to expect. A lot of the guys throw backwards so at the end of the day you've got to be ready for whatever they throw at you.”
Of course Reilly thought he would’ve been playing in Guelph this summer.
“I think (Royals owner Shawn) Fuller did make the right decision,” he said of Guelph’s decision to withdraw for a year. “We had got together and talked about all that before. For him personally, it just wasn't a good year with COVID and so much uncertainty at the time.
“I think it was the right decision for Guelph, but obviously it's disappointing for the fans and disappointing for the players that wanted to play. I know Justin (Interisano) wanted to play and I think it made it a little more difficult Guelph not having a team. You'll notice his name's not in the league this year.
“You just kind of look forward to next year and kind of see where things go. There's still so many uncertainties.”
Reilly entered the season as the IBL’s all-time leader in hits (965), home runs (201) and RBIs (774).
“Record wise, I think I've pretty much got all the offensive records, but one of the things I wanted to get was up to 1,000 hits,” he said. “I'm going to try to make as many games as I can a hopefully get it out of the way this year.
“We'll see. We've got a short season, I'm working and will miss some games. I pretty much can't afford to go through any two-week slumps or anything like that. So far so good, though.”
And how long will Reilly, who turned 44 in June, continue playing?
“Every year it seems I say it's going to be my last and then you get that itch come baseball season,” he said. “I know as my kid gets older and he starts to travel around a bit more it's going to get a lot more difficult. My kid will be No. 1 and if there's time to do anything else after that, sure that's something I'll look into.
“I would've thought it was last year, the last season (2019) we played, and here we are. I think if Guelph does come back next year, I'd like to be a part of it in some capacity – maybe as a part-time assistant coach and player. That's something that I would do just to help that team continue to get better here.
“I just take it year by year, but I definitely see myself helping out with Guelph in some capacity next year.”