By Brandon Scalea
As the baseball team has emerged at the top of the MAAC in the early stages of this season, a Rider alum hopes to emerge in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
Relief pitcher Mike Thomas was called up to the Triple-A affiliate of the Dodgers in Oklahoma City on April 26. In his debut, he pitched three innings in relief, allowing his first earned run of the season on two hits.
Now only a phone call away from the bright lights of Dodger Stadium, Thomas, ’11, has not forgotten his roots in Lawrenceville.
“Playing there was honestly the most fun four years of my life,” he said. “I made some friends that I’ll have forever. There’s something so exciting about being able to represent your school like that. I would come back there and do it all over again if I could.”
In his four years playing on Sonny Pittaro Field, Thomas led the Broncs to four straight appearances in the four-team MAAC playoff, taking home the
title in 2008 and 2010. With Thomas on the mound, the Broncs competed in two NCAA Regionals, against Texas and Cal State Fullerton.
“I saw him pitch for the first time in August of 2006; that’s how long I’ve known him,” said Rider Head Coach Barry Davis. “He just looked like the kind of guy who could be really successful if he was given the right tools. He [didn’t] throw hard enough that maybe the bigger schools wouldn’t want him, so we were able to stay on top of him, and it was a great thing for us that he decided to come here.”
After graduating, the 6’2” left-hander from Maryland was drafted by Los Angeles in the 35th round of the MLB Draft in 2011. He pitched three seasons in Single-A before being called up to the AA Tulsa Drillers in 2013. In his minor league career, Thomas has compiled an overall record of 11-9 with 19 saves and an ERA of 2.67.
Thomas credits his success to Davis, for whom he played from 2008-11.
“I learned pretty much everything from him. He has been the biggest inspiration in my life other than family,” said Thomas. “He taught me how to work hard and how to improve as a teammate. He taught me how to be accountable. He’s a phenomenal baseball coach.”
As for Thomas’ numbers at Rider, they are second to none. He holds the school record for wins, with 29, and career strikeouts, with 286. Through his final two seasons with the Broncs, Thomas recorded 18 wins to only six losses. He struck out 190 batters in a span of 200 innings.
Davis reflected on the first time he saw Thomas take the reins as potentially one of the best pitchers to ever play for this program.
“I remember in his sophomore season, he pitched against Manhattan and shut them out 3-0. It was the first time we had ever won there,” he said. “That was when he became the Mike Thomas that everyone knows today.”
Despite his dominance on a Division I mound, Thomas said the transition to professional ball was a little tough at first.
“The baseball is the same for the most part, but you’re playing with some of the best young players in the country and in the world in some cases,” he said. “It’s tough to get used to the grind of playing every day. But I wouldn’t change anything about it.”
Now in his fifth season in the minors, Thomas has seen every aspect of the Dodgers farm system and has been to every corner of the country. He has pitched in the California League, Midwest League, Pioneer League, Southern League, Texas League and Pacific Coast League.
At this point in his career, he wants more than ever to put on that iconic Dodger blue.
“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to play in the big leagues and be able to contribute,” said Thomas. “The Dodgers are playing really well right now, and I have a lot of respect for the strides they’ve made towards winning a World Series. Playing in Los Angeles for Don Mattingly would be unbelievable.”
In order to receive that life-changing phone call, Thomas feels there are a few things he needs to perfect.
“I have struggled with command in the past, and that’s something you need to control to be a decent pitcher,” he said. “I want to throw more strikes and limit the walks.”
His former coach had a few pieces of advice for him as well.
“He has the ability and the work ethic to be successful,” said Davis. “I think the biggest thing for him is to further develop [the command of] his fastball and to further develop [the command of] his breaking ball. If you can have three solid pitches, you become a tough guy to hit.”