The bar is known as a popular hangout spot for college students because of the daily specials. A sign inside touts the "F-Bomb," a shot packed with five different vodkas and Red Bull. So on a Thursday night last June, 21-year-old Tyson Gillies went to the Freaki Tiki while rehabilitating a strained left hamstring.
By dawn the next day, his reputation was forever changed.
After a police officer provided a two-mile courtesy ride for Gillies in the early hours of June 11, the officer noticed a "small bag full of a white powdery substance" on the floorboard of the backseat where Gillies had sat.
More than two months later, Gillies was charged with a felony of cocaine possession. Then, 49 days after that, the charges were dropped. Now, Gillies' lawyer is in the process of having the charges expunged from his record.
But has Gillies changed?
"I'm the same person, same person as always," Gillies, 22, said. "You always hear your parents say, 'Don't be in the wrong place at the wrong time.' Things like that happen. I've always been a good kid. I'm the same kid as I was years and years ago."
The Phillies have done what they can to alleviate the pressure. Last spring, Gillies was in big-league camp as a fascinating story. One of the three players acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Cliff Lee trade, he entered the organization with plenty of expectations. He comes from an unconventional baseball breeding ground - Kamloops, British Columbia - and is hearing-impaired.
Immediately after being told Gillies could be charged with cocaine possession, Dickie Noles was on a flight to Florida to console their young outfield prospect and begin damage control. Noles, the team's employee assistance professional, did his own due diligence on the situation. The Phillies publicly would stand behind Gillies, they said, until he was proven guilty. He never was.
On Friday, Gillies made his first extended public remarks in a controlled setting. In a second-floor conference room at the Carpenter Complex, Gillies sat with assistant general manager Chuck LaMar directly to his left. Benny Looper, another assistant GM, watched with a couple of team public relations officials. No cameras were allowed.
Cocaine possession charges will create this sort of sensitivity. And that's exactly what Gillies faced after his night at the Freaki Tiki.
On the morning of June 11, two separate field tests conducted by an officer and deputy yielded negative results for cocaine, but Gillies was told the substance would be sent to a laboratory for further analysis and he could eventually be charged.
The day after the incident, Gillies underwent a drug screening that showed negative results for cocaine, marijuana, and opiates, according to documentation provided by Gillies' lawyer, J. Kevin Hayslett.
Seventy days after that night at the Freaki Tiki, Gillies was arrested and charged with a felony for possession of three grams of cocaine when the lab results came back positive. His lawyer pleaded "not guilty" on Sept. 1. Then, on Oct. 5, the charges were dropped by the Florida state attorney's office.
"Last year was a very troubling year for me," Gillies said. "It was very difficult to deal with. I'm here now and ready to put everything behind me from last season, both professionally and personally. I'm ready to move forward and start playing the game of baseball."
Taken for a ride
Baseball is why Tyson Gillies was staying at La Quinta Inn, less than a mile from Bright House Field in Clearwater, when he should have been with the Reading Phillies to close out a three-game home series with the Trenton Thunder.
Gillies injured his hamstring May 10 while running to first base.
"I had a slow start to my double-A season, and when I was hot, I started to hit the ball well, and that's when I had it," Gillies said. "And I tried to come back way too early because I didn't want to miss any games."
The team sent him to Florida for rehab, as they do with all of their minor-leaguers who suffer injuries that linger beyond a few days. He spent about a month in Clearwater. Gillies played two more games for Reading on June 15 and 18, just days after the incident. The hamstring still hurt. And now he had other things on his mind, too.
When Gillies was first seen by a police officer after 2 a.m. on June 11, he was nearly 21/2 miles south of the Freaki Tiki. Deputy David Savalox said in his original incident report that he saw Gillies standing on the shoulder of southbound Route 19 waving a white shirt in the air at passing cars.
"I observed the subject to be very hyper," Savalox wrote, according to a copy of the official police report obtained by The Inquirer. He added: "It appeared he was intoxicated and had slurred speech along with poor balance. However, I could not detect an odor of alcoholic beverage on his person."
Gillies was looking for a ride back to the hotel. He pulled out three one-dollar bills from his wallet, according to the report, not enough for a taxi. So Savalox offered a courtesy ride. Savalox searched Gillies for weapons and paraphernalia before he entered the police cruiser.
After dropping Gillies off, when the officer found the substance in the backseat, he escorted Gillies back to the cruiser and read him his Miranda rights, according to the report.
"Tyson became very emotional and began crying uncontrollably," Savalox wrote. Savalox then placed Gillies in handcuffs fearing he possibly would run or try to destroy the evidence.
"On the scene, he never possesses it, he denies possession, and it tests negative for cocaine," said Hayslett, Gillies' lawyer. "He's handcuffed for what reason? Possessing something in the officer's opinion that may look like something that may be illegal?"
In his discussions with the state attorney's office, Hayslett said he raised these issues: How thoroughly was the backseat search before Gillies entered the cruiser? Who was transported before Gillies? Wouldn't an officer's search have found a three-gram bag in Gillies' possession? And how did the substance test negative on two field scans?
"All of that didn't make any sense," Hayslett said.
The state attorney's office agreed. The charges were dropped.
Still a prospect
A couple of weeks ago, Gillies was in the Phillies weight room. He turned around during his workout and saw Cliff Lee.
"We just caught eyes," Gillies said. He described it as surreal.
And so begins the rehabilitation of Tyson Gillies the baseball player. No longer are the expectations high; Lee has returned and all is forgotten. His hamstring is healthy. The Phillies still view him as a decent prospect.
It now provides comfort for Gillies, who constantly said Friday he has put everything behind him. That, of course, is easier said than done.
"The most upsetting thing for me," he said, "is that people even had a chance to question my character, which I value so much."
As a part of his defense, Hayslett gathered letters of support for Gillies. He solicited baseball people who knew Gillies. Pedro Grifol, the director of minor-league operations for the Mariners, wrote that Gillies was a "role model for the young players in our system."
"Despite the accusations that have been brought against him," Grifol wrote, "to this day I know Tyson as a man of unparalleled honor and integrity."
"We didn't waver," Chuck LaMar said Friday.
But baseball can only do so much.
"How do you get rid of the scarlet letter?" Hayslett asked.
Gillies plans on pushing forward.
"To have people doubt me, it's their decision," Gillies said. "But me, I'm never going to change. I'm always going to be the same person."
Contact writer Matt Gelb at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb.