When former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill was being wooed by the Canadian Football League's Montreal Concordes (now Alouettes) in 1984, he stayed at the opulent Bonaventure Hilton and dined at the swank Café de Paris. When Gill and his wife, Gayle, were being moved last month to Waterloo, Iowa—home of the Class A Waterloo Indians—they stayed at the Twin Torch Inn (Magic Fingers included) and celebrated their arrival with a one-course repast at Shakey's Pizza Parlor.
On Oct. 27, 1985, in his next-to-last CFL game, Gill threw for 176 yards as the Concordes beat Toronto before 28,837 fans. Last Wednesday night, 750 fans at Municipal Stadium watched Gill's Indians play the Peoria Chiefs. "Oh-64," the P.A. crackled. "That's oh-64 on your baseball Bingo card. And now batting for Peoria...."
Welcome to the big time, Turner Gill.
"It's a long, long way from Montreal," says Gill, who joined the Indians on June 4. Actually, Waterloo is a long, long way from anywhere, especially Cleveland, home of the parent-club Indians. But after doctors told him this spring that his series of football-related concussions might cause damage later in life, Gill committed himself to the dream of baseball's major leagues. "I can do things other than baseball," says Gill, who's 23. "By my timetable, I'm hoping to get a good shot by 1989, maybe even 1988. If it doesn't work out, no regrets."
The transition has been remarkably smooth. In 12 games, Gill is batting .250 with 4 RBIs, a double and a stolen base, and after making 8 errors in his first 7 games at shortstop, he has had only 1 in his last 5. Since he began playing, the Indians have gone 17-7 and moved into first in the Midwest League's Central Division.
Gill's odyssey began shortly after the Cornhuskers' heartbreaking Orange Bowl loss to Miami on Jan. 2, 1984. Eschewing the NFL, he signed one of the largest CFL rookie contracts ever, for a reported $1.2 million over four years. The Concordes were a competitive and financial mess, but in two years Gill threw for 4,928 yards, ran for another 826 and passed for 23 TDs. With his face adorning buses and billboards all over Montreal, he had achieved minor celebrity.
But in the final game of the '85 season, Gill was blindsided by an Edmonton Eskimo and knocked out for the fourth time in his short pro career. During the off-season, doctors confirmed the worst. "Playing football would have been like playing Russian roulette," Gill says. "I could have taken a chance, but I want to have all my faculties later in life." On May 19 he was given a monetary settlement and released. That night, Gayle cried herself to sleep. "It hit me harder than him," she says.
Gill considered returning to Nebraska as a graduate assistant coach, but his agent, Ed Keating, suggested he try baseball again. After all, he was drafted out of Fort Worth at age 17 by the White Sox, and at 21 by the Yankees. "It had been so long since I'd played regularly [he hit .284 in 48 games in 1983 for Nebraska], I didn't think anybody would still be interested," Gill says. But they were, and he chose the Indians because of the opportunity to move up in the system.
"To be honest, I had some misgivings about his coming here," says Waterloo manager Steve Swisher. "This guy's been in the big time. He's had the money, he's had the attention. But I'll tell you: no problems at all. He's been great for this team."
Meanwhile, life is a furnished apartment in Cedar Falls, quiet nights at home and plenty of sacrifices. The Gills are determined not to meet their Waterloo in northeast Iowa.