Southern League baseball is known for its stifling summers and burdensome bus rides.
Tommy Giles, a 25-year-old outfielder for the Chattanooga Lookouts, realizes there is nothing he can do about one of those aspects but would love to do something about the other. Giles has a commercial pilot's license and flies his family's twin-engine Piper Seneca six-seater during the offseason throughout his home state of Florida.
"As soon as I got drafted, when I went to Odgen, Utah, I asked the Dodgers if they would let me fly," Giles said. "They said 'no chance' and that the team was on the bus and that I needed to be with the team. On a nine-hour trip when I can be there in 45 minutes, it's kind of frustrating."
Lookouts owner Frank Burke has no plans to scrap the team bus for a team plane, and players were far from unanimous when asked if they would rather fly to league games with Giles as the pilot.
"Not a shot," outfielder Russ Mitchell said. "I don't trust Tommy in the clubhouse, so I definitely wouldn't trust him flying a plane."
Said pitcher Josh Lindblom: "He's got his license, so I think I'd trust him."
Lookouts manager John Valentin admitted he wouldn't be on the plane, reasoning that Giles doesn't have nearly enough flight hours for him to feel comfortable.
After graduating from Vero Beach High School, Giles went to Indian River Community College to play baseball but got cut from the team. He then went to flight school for a year but got bigger and stronger and gave baseball another shot.
Giles walked on at the University of Central Florida and transferred to the University of Miami before Los Angeles selected him in the eighth round of the 2006 draft, but his autumns and winters were reserved for flying.
"My family plays a lot of golf, so we usually just fly to a bunch of places and play," said Giles, who isn't ruling out a golf career when his baseball career is over. "The first week after every season is over, I get reacquainted with flight instructors because I haven't flown in the last six months. Then I have fun the rest of the offseason."
Born and raised in Vero Beach, Giles had an entertaining childhood as well. He was a bat boy for the Dodgers at their old spring-training site and for the former high Single-A team in the Florida State League.
Giles admits respecting bat boys a lot more than most players and jokes how bat boys and minor league players "get paid about the same." He finds himself carrying bats around a lot so the bat boys don't have to come get them, and he points out how he used to be one and that they could play professional baseball, too.
"When I was a bat boy, a lot of the guys I liked on the minor league teams never made it to the big leagues," he said. "It was neat, though, as a young guy to see how the minor league system works."
Last year, the left-handed Giles hit .280 in 126 games at high Single-A Inland Empire with 30 doubles and 22 home runs. He also batted in 100 runs, which tied for the organizational lead and ranked second in the California League.
Giles has been mostly a reserve since joining Chattanooga from Inland Empire on May 12 and hit .250 in 28 first-half games. He closed the half strong, hitting 8-of-21 (.381) in the last two series, and opened the second half Monday with a home run in Huntsville.
"I just need to go out there and keep hitting when I get the opportunity," he said. "If I get a hit as a pinch-hitter, then maybe I'll get to play the next game and compete from there."
Whether or not this season takes off for Giles remains to be seen. Either way, the family plane awaits.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...