By David Pavlak
Almost every child grows up with dreams. Some want to become firefighters, some want to become astronauts and others want to become baseball players. For most kids, these dreams and wishes change hundreds of times before they grow up and realize that their dreams are improbable. Not all dreams die, however. Mike Thomas and Nate Eppley were both recent selections in the 2011 MLB draft.
Eppley was drafted in the 29th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Oakland Athletics, while Thomas was selected in the 35th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Thomas began his career with the AZL Dodgers, going 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA through 12 games played. He received a promotion to the Ogden Raptors, and has gone 0-2 with a 9.26 ERA.
Eppley, playing for the AZL Atheltics, has appeared in 18 games earning a 3.58 ERA.
“I was aware that teams were looking at me to possibly be drafted,” Eppley said. “I did have previous contact with the A’s. I was in contact with about four or five other teams prior to the draft as well. I was extremely excited to find out that I had been drafted by Oakland, and did not even think twice about deciding to sign with them because I was just very excited to have the opportunity to keep playing.”
Thomas had the same mindset after finding out that he had been selected.
“I was aware the teams were looking at me during the year, and even before the draft,” Thomas said. “I had heard a decent amount from the Oakland A’s, the New York Yankees, the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angels. I had only talked to the Dodgers once, but I guess they saw something they liked in me.”
For Thomas, the opportunity to play was a feeling he could never describe, as all of his hard work had finally accumulated into one defining moment.
“When the Dodgers called and informed me they picked me in the draft, I was speechless,” said Thomas. “It was something I had worked towards my whole life, and I was very excited. I had started to make some connections in the job market upon graduation, but I knew right away that I was going to play baseball.”
Both Eppley and Thomas had outstanding careers at Rider. Thomas holds the Rider record for career wins and strikeouts. Eppley was the 2009 Rider Pitcher of the Year. Both are using the skills they gained at Rider to help bridge the gap to their professional careers.
“It’s actually funny because I often felt that I was back at Rider practices sometimes,” said Eppley. “We did the exact same things defensively; team defense with bunts, first and thirds, and even pick-offs and rundowns. So the things I learned from coach Davis and coach Steward during my time at Rider have allowed me to be way ahead of the curve with all the new draft picks.”
Thomas knows his time with Rider will always be with him.
“I can’t put a price on my time at Rider,” said Thomas. “Up to this point, it has been the best four years of my life. Coach Davis, coach Steward and the rest of the staff taught me how to be a leader and how to go about the game like a professional. I owe the whole staff at Rider, including my teammates, a big thank you for preparing me for this next phase in my career.”
Both players are now seeing their hard work at Rider pay off, especially with some of the different tricks that they have learned from their coaches.
“I learned how to pitch inside effectively while at Rider,” said Eppley. “Coach Steward and I would throw inside a lot and that has really helped me in my transition. The A’s love to pitch inside and control the plate during game situations, and I have that ability. A lot of guys are scared to pitch inside; I have learned how to correctly and accurately do this during my Rider career and that skill has helped me be effective at this level.”
Thomas has learned his own strategies.
“The one trick I learned at Rider that has stuck with me to this day is that I should always trust my stuff and the abilities I was blessed with,” said Thomas. “I learned early in my career at Rider that I shouldn’t try to do too much or become something I am not. Confidence is the number one thing.”
Both men have only begun what they hope will be long and prosperous careers. They both will continue to work like they did at Rider to move up the rankings, hopefully making it to the major’s one day.
“I obviously want to keep moving up in the organization and make it to the professional rankings,” said Eppley. “I have already made improvements in my game and I have more room to grow and continue to get better.”
Thomas thinks the same way as his former teammate.
“My ultimate goal is the same as everyone else who gets the chance to play professionally, and that is to make it to the Big Leagues and to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers,” said Thomas. “The amount of talent in the organization is unbelievable, but the staff continues to show confidence in me and give me signs that I have a chance to move up. I just need to work hard and control the things I can control, and hopefully everything will work out.”