By Cristiana Votta
Meeting qualifications to become a Division I athlete is an accomplishment that some athletes can’t even imagine achieving. Throughout Rider’s athletic history, some athletes have taken their abilities to the next level. This was the case for pitchers Nate Eppley and Mike Thomas, ’11, who were selected in the 2011 MLB draft.
Eppley finished off this past season in Burlington, Iowa, playing for the Burlington Bees, which is a Low-A farm team of the Oakland Athletics. Thomas finished last season with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, which is a Hi-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With both sparking an interest in baseball at young ages, it’s no wonder how far they have come on their paths to success. Eppley and Thomas were influenced to stick with the game by family members and coaches.
Eppley hoped to fill big shoes, following in the path of his brother Cody, a pitcher for the New York Yankees. Supported by his dad, brother and pitching coach, Ed Edwards, he was inspired to improve his game.
“My brother, who is three years older, was always better than me growing up,” Eppley said. “Seeing his success has made me work that much harder to reach that top level of baseball.”
Thomas was also pursuing a gold-paved road, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who played professional baseball as well.
“My grandfather and my dad really pushed me and taught me how to go about playing baseball the right way,” Thomas said. “My parents sacrificed a lot of time for me to play and I want to repay them by trying to play at the highest level possible.”
Thomas decided that he wanted to be a pitcher when his hitting went downhill. It gave him extra personality as a pitcher because he was left- handed. Fate played a different role for Eppley.
“I knew pitching was for me as soon as I started throwing off a mound,” Eppley said. “It came very naturally for me. I also love the one on one battle between the pitcher and hitter.”
Eppley and Thomas were rewarded numerous times throughout their Rider careers. Both were members of a record-breaking year in Rider baseball. In 2010, their junior year, the Broncs broke the school record for wins at 36. Beyond team honors, each pitcher was awarded prestigious personal titles. Thomas was the team’s most valuable pitcher twice and was recognized as MAAC Pitcher of the Year and New Jersey Pitcher of the Year in 2010. Eppley was also honored with a most valuable pitcher award from the team in his sophomore year.
During their time at Rider, Eppley and Thomas were titled MAAC champions twice and compiled strong numbers for the team.
“They were definitely two of our best starting pitchers-,” Head Coach Barry Davis said. “They held some great statistics. Their contribution was on the high end for us. Both had been extremely productive.”
Before moving on from Rider, Eppley and Thomas were integral parts to the Broncs’ success.
“They were really instrumental with everything the team accomplished in their four years [2008-11],” Davis said. “We went to the regionals twice and the conference tournament all four years. They were on one of the winningest teams our program has ever seen.”
Besides improving their athletic ability and skill, they learned about overcoming obstacles, building mental strength and overall growing as individuals.
“Almost every life lesson I have learned, I learned at Rider,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know how to go about school, baseball and being a good citizen the right way and Rider truly taught me all of that. I hope I can continue to reflect well on the university in years to come.”
With constant room for improvement, the two pitchers are consistently hitting the field and gym and mentally preparing as well as anticipating any situation to be thrown at them.
“The mental and physical preparation is key to any career in baseball,” Thomas said. “You have to be physically able to perform everyday, but baseball is a very mental game and you have to be sharp in that aspect as well. You must always be working and always studying the game.”
Although it’s unknown where baseball will take them, both Eppley and Thomas have certain goals in mind such as advancement, and they’re hopeful that with consistency and motivation, they can achieve anything.
“A lot of people who play this game haven’t made it as far as Eppley and Thomas have, so they’ve overcome some odds already,” Davis said. “They need to prove that they are willing and capable to keep growing, it’s a big step for them to go to AA which will determine if they make it or not.”
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