Smyrna’s Gillis finds his passion in baseball

Jared Gillis wishes he was capping off a stellar career at Delaware State with a big senior season right now. Coronavirus ended every college athlete’s spring season early, though. DSU sports information photos

DOVER — When he was really little, Jared Gillis wanted to do anything his big sister, Jameria, did.

And Jameria was a softball player.

So one day, the whole family went to the batting cage. It might have been the first time five-year-old Jared ever swung a bat.
“I hopped in the cage and it was a good swing,” Jared remembered. “Something just clicked. This feels right.”

In that moment, Jared said his athletic future transformed from basketball to baseball.

He was right. The former Smyrna High standout is 22 now and he’s still swinging a bat.

Gillis just wishes he was capping off a stellar career at Delaware State with a big senior season right now. Coronavirus ended every college athlete’s spring season early, though.

But Gillis is planning to come back next spring for the extra season the NCAA is expected to grant.

That’s good news for Hornet coach J.P. Blandin, who says the third baseman is about as reliable as they come.

“He’s a pretty quiet guy,” said Blandin. “But you can count on him. He’s reliable, he’s steady.”

Blandin is probably the main reason that Gillis ended up at Delaware State. Coming out of Smyrna, Gillis was also recruited by Delaware, Dartmouth and some other MEAC schools.

Gillis’ dad, Donald, and Blandin were teammates on youth teams growing up in Middletown.

“That was his guy,” said Gillis. “Out of all the schools, I think he wanted me to play with Blandin just because he knew Blandin was a great guy. He knew I was in great hands.”

That’s what it made it especially tragic when Donald Gillis died suddenly, a few months before Jared started his freshman season in college. He was only 47.

Jared Gillis is planning to come back next spring for the extra season the NCAA is expected to grant.

Jared Gillis thought about sitting out the year as he dealt with it.

“But my mom and my sister, they were just constantly supporting me,” said Gillis. “They were saying that’s not something that my father would like to see me do. Then about three or four weeks after that, I actually heard the news that my grandfather had passed away.

“At the time, I felt like I was just doing everything for them. I was working so hard to start and I was focused on being the greatest player I could be.”

“It was heartbreaking,” said Blandin. “His Dad was really supportive of him through all his experiences in baseball. And he was really excited for him and that next step — college baseball — the journey that he (Jared) was taking. He was just a great guy with a great family.”

Gillis achieved his goal, starting the season opener as a freshman. He can remember missing only one start in his three-plus seasons at DSU since.

More often that not, Gillis’ mom, Shonna, and his sister, Jameira, are in the stands to see him play.

A year ago, Gillis earned first-team all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference honors. He hit .307 with 37 RBI and had a 12-game hitting streak.

Gillis went 5-for-5 in one conference game and 4-for-4 in another. He had two or more hits in 15 contests.

Blandin, though, said Gillis is more than just a good hitter. He’s also a really good defensive third baseman.

“That’s a tough position to handle,” said Blandin. “You’re up with big, strong college guys sometimes just in case they bunt or there’s runners on base and you’re trying to cut off runs.

“It is not an easy position to play and he’s done it very well for us.”

Jared Gillis

Gillis said there’s something about playing third base that he’s always liked.

“I like when they hit the ball hard and then I have to react and make a nice play,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed the excitement. As a kid, in the outfield, there really wasn’t much action.

“It’s definitely different (in college). … You’ve got to stay on your toes. You’ve got to be locked in on every pitch. There’s no time for distractions. As a kid, in between pitches, I might be kicking the dirt or picking up rocks.”

Gillis is one of several former Henlopen Conference players on the DSU roster. Milford grad Tommy Jordan has been starting alongside him at shortstop for the past four years.

That’s what made it so crushing for the Hornets to hear that their season had come to an unexpected end on March 13.

“Hearing about everything closing is completely different than, yeah, it actually happened,” said Gillis. “You could hear a pin drop once the coaches told us in the dugout. It was just like, ‘Man, it really is real.’

“You can’t take anything for granted, that’s definitely what it taught this team.”

Gillis said he’s already looking forward to next season. He said once he heard the rest of DSU’s seniors were planning to come back it was an easy decision.

“I can’t be the only one that’s not in,” Gillis said with a laugh. “I was supposed to graduate in the fall. But, instead of being done, I’ll have to take 12 more credits.

“But the way the season ended is just not sitting well with me. There’s more in store for us.”