American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier features Tony Thomas, who joins the Chicago Dogs to bring bite to their lineup and leadership and character to the locker room.
Tony Thomas Joins Chicago Dogs
Since January, teams around the American Association have been looking for those veterans that they could build their roster around. While a team wants the best talent available, they also want a player who sets a standard for the rest of the club. A guy that the manager can count on to keep his team focused on and off the field, and be a kind of player-coach.
While there are a number of talented players in the American Association, there are few who command respect just by their sheer presence. The kind of player who not only brings an enormous amount of talent to the diamond each day, but who presents himself in such a way that you just know that this is a person of character.
That is what Chicago Dogs Manager Butch Hobson was looking for when he signed Tony Thomas. He knew that the veteran was the kind of player who would bring toughness and skill to the field, while also bringing character, leadership, and joy to the locker room.
An Established American Association Veteran
Tony Thomas is not new to the American Association. Tony had starred for the St. Paul Saints the last two seasons, earning a trip to the All-Star game in 2016. The veteran hit .296 with 65 RBI in 98 games that year, following it up with a career high 18 homers last season.
St. Paul had become one of his favorite places to play. In fact, it would be safe to say that he got as much from the organization as he gave.
“The energy is great, not only from the players and coaches but also from the front office staff and the promotion teams. They made the games fun regardless if we were playing extremely well or if we went through one of our slumps. It was always a good atmosphere to be around at that stadium (CHS Field).”
It wasn’t just about the large crowds and the new ballpark, but about how the organization, as a whole, was run. Tony is one who is dedicated to being more than just a ballplayer on the field, and he loved how the Saints echoed that same kind of mentality.
“I love how involved the team was with the community in the area around the stadium. I have never been a part of an organization that was so involved every day of the season. Like some organizations would be sporadically throughout the year, but St. Paul was trying to do something with us every day when we were in town. Even when we were out of town they were always involved in the city.”
Choosing a New Adventure
As much as Tony Thomas loved his days in St. Paul, the infielder was open to opportunities that arose apart from playing. One such opening came this off-season when IMG wanted him to coach, but Tony wasn’t ready to step off the diamond as a player and didn’t think it was fair to some young man to not give his all.
“I just didn’t want to be in July and not giving my all to the kid who’s devoted to me when I am mentally somewhere else, when I’m stressing thinking what if I would’ve stayed, what if I would’ve played. When I’m done playing, I don’t want to ever look back and be like, ‘Oh, what if I would’ve done this?’ I want to be satisfied no matter how high I get to. I want to look back and say I gave it my all, I’m satisfied with what I accomplished. Now, it’s on to the next thing in my life.”
Instead, Tony has been working with the Winnipeg Goldeyes David Bergin and the New Jersey Jackals Marcus Lemon at a school dedicated to helping young players improve as players beyond their skill level.
“We’re teaching these kids more about how to carry themselves, the mannerisms and respect for the game. We’re going to teach them to get better, but we also want to teach them how to go about doing their business the right way. Almost, instead of looking at them as just 12-year-olds, we’re going to treat them as older kids so they can approach the game at a more mature and respectful level.”
Don’t Just Hang Up the Cleats Yet!
While loving teaching the future stars in baseball, Tony Thomas was not ready to call it quits on his own playing career. He was looking for a new home this off-season and, when new Chicago Dogs Manager Butch Hobson called him, he knew that he had found a home.
“I know when I first was released in 2015 by the Twins, (Chicago Dogs Manager) Butch (Hobson) actually reached out to me and he has reached out to me a couple of times since then, but I went with St. Paul instead. I’ve known Butch for the past few years and I’ve known a couple of the other coaches, like Stan Cliburn. So, I knew that relationship was already good going into it. Just to be a part of something new, just to branch out and I feel like, if you get a group of strong guys, it could make the league even stronger.”
Chicago had great appeal to Tony. Not only was it a new ballpark he would be playing in with a brand new team, but he knows a lot of people from the area, and knew that there was really no better place to go.
“I played for both teams in Chicago. I was drafted by the Cubs and I was with the Cubs from 2007 two 2011. My last year in affiliate ball was with the White Sox for the last month and a half in Birmingham. I know a lot of people in the Cubs and in the White Sox organizations, so, when I’m in town I’ll know people from both parts of the city who are actually with the big league club as well.”
The Top Dog?
That fact that Tony Thomas feels that the Chicago Dogs are the right fit for him is not an opinion that only he holds. After the signing of the veteran was announced, it was pointed out to Hobson what a great guy Thomas is. The Dogs Manager couldn’t have agreed more.
“That is what everyone told me,” Butch Hobson explained. “A real character guy.”
That has been something that has always made Tony special. He has laid it all out on the field each night, but has also been there to pick his teammates up when they are slumping or dejected. A guy who is every bit of a big brother as he is a baseball player.
“The best thing that another player can say about you when they ask about you is, ‘I want to be known as a good guy, that’s a good player, but who’s a team guy and a guy you like to be around.’ At this level, everybody has some kind of talent, so I don’t want to be known as just he’s a good baseball player.
“I want to be known as an all-around good guy because, at the end of the day, let’s say that I want to coach, those guys are going to be in my corner to support me if I need a reference to go anywhere. I know that if you treat people right, good things are always going to come your way. My parents taught me to always take pride in treating people how you want to be treated.”
Games to Play and Milestones to Reach Before I Am Done
With the start of the 2018 American Association a little over a month away, Tony Thomas is coaching and preparing himself for the upcoming season. He has set a personal goal of 20 homers this season, a feat he nearly reached last and probably would have had it not been for an injury that sidelined the veteran for two weeks.
That is not the only reason Tony is still playing, however. He still has big dreams and knows there are things yet to accomplish.
“The reason I still play is because I eventually want to still play in the big leagues. I am a realist about this. I know that window minimizes each and every year. I know that this can also lead me to another route. It could be to international ball, it could be to somewhere in Mexico, Japan, or Korea. I can take advantage of baseball to maybe let me see parts of the world that not many people get a chance to see. I look at this as a stepping stone in opening up my horizons to may be possible travel and to explore places that I’ve maybe never seen before.”
Tony Thomas may never reach the Major Leagues. However, if one is judging a player by the character, leadership, and joy that they bring to the field, then Tony is a hall of famer. With his bat in the lineup the Chicago Dogs are going to have a whole lot more bite but, with him in the locker room, they are going to have a whole lot of fun playing baseball this year. That’s just the Tony Thomas way.
Images of Tony Thomas with St. Paul Saints courtesy of Betsy Bissen/St. Paul Saints
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA