Gillman Will Join Brother At The U.S. Air Force Academy

Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Texas Writer

MIDLAND, TX - Baseball has been a huge part of life for the Gillman family. It is only fitting, that the family affair will continue at the United States Air Force Academy.

Tommy Gillman, a sophomore at Midland College, has committed to play for the Falcons, where older brother C.J. Gillman is the hitting coach.

“It was an easy decision whether my brother was there or not,” Tommy Gillman said of the commitment. “But I think it’s going to be awesome. I have a super relation with (head coach Mike Kazlausky) coach Kaz and with my brother there, I couldn’t play for two better people.”

It nearly happened upon graduation from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, back in 2016.

“I almost went there out of high school,” related Gillman. “I thought about it back then but I wasn’t sure if the Academy was something I wanted to do. I didn’t know if it was for me.”

Instead, Gillman went to Texas A&M for a year.

“That made me think a lot about the Academy,” Gillman admitted. “I needed to decide what I wanted to give as a person and did I want to do something a whole lot bigger than myself and serve my country.”

Once Gillman came to terms with his decision, a release from A&M was signed.

“Coach Kaz gave me a call as soon as he found out from my brother,” Gillman explained. “It was one of the only schools I was thinking about, but I knew getting in would be hard. A lot goes into it and there’s no way to be sure. Because of that, I talked with some other schools and took a visit to Houston.”

There were also visits to McLennan and Midland, with Gillman eventually finding a new home … if only for a brief time.

“When I visited Midland, I liked the culture that coach (David) Coleman had created,” Gillman noted. “He’s the type of guy I wanted to play for.”

Weeks after the release from A&M, Gillman decided Midland was going to be his next stop.

“Coach Coleman left in the summer after I signed, but the three coaches they have are great guys,” Gillman said in reference to Hector Rodriguez, Bo Altobelli and Mason Randolph. “It’s been everything I could ask for and I’m thankful to play here.”

A catcher turned shortstop in high school, the 5-10 175-pounder is playing third base this season for the Chaps.

“Coach Altobelli is the hitting coach and I’ve learned so much from both him and my brother,” explained the switch-hitting Gillman. “I’ve made a huge change in my game offensively and have a lot more power.

”Every hitter is different and coach Altobelli recognizes that and finds a different way to explain what to do hitting-wise. He is incredible finding a swing that works for everybody. He finds an analogy to help each be the best they can be at the plate.”  

But once this season is over, Gillman’s baseball future moves north to Colorado Springs.

“Out of high school (former Air Force assistant head coach and current PBR Texas Scouting Director) Toby Bicknell and Kaz were the first coaches I was recruited by,” Gillman said. “But I didn’t know enough about the Academy.”

That has changed.

“I know more now because of my brother,” Gillman said in reference to the fourth-year Air Force assistant coach. “Back then all I knew was i wanted to play ball at a big school. But after a full year out of high school and maturing, I realized that wasn’t the end all.”

Gillman’s interest in Air Force continued while at Midland.

“As soon as my medical stuff passed and my ACTs were up, I knew the Academy was where I wanted to be,” Gillman said.

The interest became mutual.

“They like the way I play,” Gillman said about Air Force. “I’m a guy that can be 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and still run on the field and want to help out my team. I’m a guy who plays hard at all times. They like that ... plus I have a little bit of talent as well.

“I’ve developed a lot lately. I’ve always hung my hat as a defender but I’ve learned a lot in the past year about my swing and I’ve made big leaps that will help at the Academy.”

Once back in Colorado, Gillman will be closer to his father Chuck, a long-time high school coach who remains in the sport as an assistant at Kent Denver where his nephew Jack Roode plays.

“Both my boys played all sports, but they migrated to baseball which got me excited,” reflected the 66-year-old Gillman, who began coaching the sport 39 years ago. “I got to coach them both in high school. C.J. was an overachiever who always had size on his side. Tommy is a shorter version of C.J., but in a lot of ways is way more athletic. C.J. was a catcher and that’s where he belonged. Tommy followed there, he started for me at catcher his first two years at Columbine. But he waited his turn and moved to shortstop his junior year. He’s really fluid in the infield with great hands.

“But what’s impressed me the most is he’s as strong as anyone. In the offseason he does all the training he can do. He has a devotion to doing things the right way and to working hard. I love the way he plays the game.”

At Air Force, Tommy will get a chance to play Division I ball like his older brother did. Now 28, C.J. played baseball at three colleges, the last two years in Ohio at the University of Dayton.

“He got a chance to play Division I ball back east and also then had a chance to play pro ball,” Chuck Gillman said. “He was a smart kid, I thought he’d follow his mom and be a businessman, but he said he wanted to coach. I said this is a bad state to coach in, there aren’t many schools.

“He applied at Air Force, and didn’t get the job right away. But a guy left right after that and there was a coaching position open. He was in the right spot at the right time.”

Now younger brother Tommy will join C.J. at the Division I school.

“I was surprised when he left A&M that he picked Air Force,” the elder Gillman said about his son. “I told him you’re going to have to start over, but it didn’t bother him. I think his brother is the drawing card. Plus, his grandad is a military guy and he’s excited about that.”

Ten years ago the 92-year-old and his wife moved from Virginia to Colorado to be closer to family. With C.J. at Air Force and Tommy soon to join, it will bring the Gillman clan together in one state.

“It’s funny the way this all went,” Tommy said. “But I think Air Force is the perfect fit for the type of person I am.”

Admittedly, the influence of his dad has been a big reason Tommy is what he is today.

“The foundation of everything, I owe to him,” Tommy said of his father. “Growing up, the way I played the game, the way I played it hard was something I learned from my dad. He made me the player I am today. I’ve learned a lot here at Midland, too, but he’s the one that made me a hard-nosed baseball player. I really appreciate what he’s done for me.”

Two years ago, Chuck Gillman resigned as head baseball coach after spending the previous 16 years in charge of the Columbine High School program in Littleton. He is now a volunteer coach, which allows time to see his son play.

“He’s really good at communicating with all his players,” Tommy said about his dad’s coaching ability. “He’s not a coach that likes to yell and scream, he’ll find the problems with the team and what they need to work on. He’s always been good at learning every player’s personality and been able to connect them in such ways - hard-nosed or loving - to get the best parts out of every player. My brother and I learned a lot from him on that aspect.”

It is something the youngest Gillman might use once his baseball playing days are over.

“Being a coach is something I think I’d be good at,” Tommy said. “I know my brother loves it. I’ll talk to him at some point and maybe we can coach together, but I’ll have to see how service time goes. I may want to fly jets the rest of my life. That would be awesome, too.”


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