Thomas' debut was 10 years in the making

June 10th, 2021

DETROIT -- couldn’t hold back the tears. How could he?

The 28-year-old Minor League journeyman was asked what it meant to have his family on hand for his big league debut in Wednesday’s 9-6 win over the Tigers, when he made a remarkable leaping catch along the right-center-field wall in the second inning and roped his first career hit in the 11th, a two-run single that wound up being a critical dagger to salvage Jake Fraley’s catch-of-the year, game-saving home-run robbery.

Thomas’ incredibly emotional reaction in his postgame interview was a reminder of how much of an achievement it is to reach the big leagues for these players and their loved ones.

“It was a family effort to get here,” Thomas said, tears beginning to emerge from his eyes. “I couldn't be sitting where I am right now without both my mom, my dad, my sister, just everybody in my family. They've been the ones that keep me going all these years, and I'm so grateful to have had that support system.”

The jitters began pregame, when Seattle began infield practice and 11th-year Mariner Kyle Seager turned to Thomas, ensuring his teammates were within earshot, and said: “Mr. Thomas! This is a big day for you!”

And it continued into the postgame celebration along the Comerica Park first-base line, where Thomas met his family that trekked to Detroit, including his 4-year-old daughter, whose reaction to his callup was seemingly straight out of a Hollywood script. When he embraced his girlfriend to relay the news after a phone call with Mariners director of player development Andy McKay, a teary Thomas caught his daughter off guard. She asked why he was crying.

When he told her why, Thomas’ daughter beamed with a wide grin, then erupted around the house, shouting, “Daddy is a big leaguer!”

Thomas’ long road to the Majors certainly came with self-doubt, uncertainty and sacrifice. A fourth-round pick by the Rockies in 2011, Thomas has spent most of his pro career in the lower-level Minors. After tumbling out of Colorado’s organization, he worked out for the Cubs, Rangers and D-backs in 2018. But none were interested.

“I sat there all offseason; nobody had called,” Thomas said. “And I just continued to work out and stay in shape, hoping that somebody would call.”

So, Thomas wound up playing for the Texas AirHogs in an independent league that season. If there was ever a time where he thought about hanging up his glove, it was in that muggy Dallas suburb, but Thomas insists that summer changed the trajectory of his career.

“Going to indy [ball] really opened up my eyes and honestly brought back the love of the game for me,” Thomas said. “Just playing because you want to play. Playing because you love it. You're there, you’re not making any money. We didn't get a lot of fans down in Texas. So, it wasn't the greatest environment to play in, but it just got me back to my roots.

“That experience, honestly, it was the changing point for me and for my career so far.”

Now, Thomas finds himself with an opportunity to contribute to a suddenly depleted outfield, which is down Kyle Lewis, who suffered a torn right meniscus, and Jarred Kelenic, who was sent down to the Minors on Monday to clear his head.

Thomas was on a tear at Triple-A Tacoma before his callup, hitting .338/.459/.625 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 25 games. As a left-handed bat in a lefty-loaded lineup, his playing time might not be as consistent as Fraley’s or Taylor Trammell’s. But he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity.

“It’s a testament to the fact that he is 28 years old,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “And he's not 21 or 22. He has been through the wars. He has struck out three times in a game before. You know what I mean?

“That life experience, playing experience all those at-bats. You’re playing in indy ball. Crazy stuff happens, and he's able to just keep playing. That's what you have to do. And you see that there, how mature he was about the entire game tonight. He didn’t panic late in the game. [He thought,] ‘I’ve just got to get a good pitch to hit.’ He slowed it down, and he did.”