Tony Thomas Positively Charged for Success for St. Paul Saints
For the second straight season, the St. Paul Saints have found themselves as the top team in the North Division of the American Association. Heading into the All-Star break they hold an eight-game lead, and over the past season and a half the team is 120-48, one of the best runs that the sport has ever seen.
It is an amazing feat that the team that won a club record 74-games last season finds itself atop the standings in the American Association this season. Several of its key players are gone from last year’s club, including league MVP Vinny DiFazio. However, vital members of last season’s club remain, including Angelo Songco, Robert Coe, Ryan Rodebaugh, Willie Argo, and Alonzo Harris.
While a core of guys has remained that has helped to keep this club on top, it is has been the additions that Manager George Tsamis has brought in that have helped to propel the club to the top of the league’s standings. Men who have not only excelled on the field, but brought a new hunger and energy to the clubhouse. No one has epitomized that better than shortstop Tony Thomas.
A Pathway Destined for Success
Tony Thomas, Jr. loved the sport of baseball for as long as he can remember. His dad had played both in college and for a time professionally and showed his son how much fun and enjoyment he could have playing the game. Through his dad’s inspiration, Tony quickly became enamored with the sport.
“I just had a passion for it ever since I was a little kid. It was so much fun to play and I enjoyed playing the game. There is truly no feeling like it.”
He was not just having fun on the field, however. Tony was excelling on the diamond and soon found himself heading to Florida State University to continue his baseball career. There he absolutely starred.
In his freshman season, the younger Thomas showed the flashes of the brilliance that he was going to display later on in his Seminoles’ career. In 72-games, he hit .240 with 6-homeruns and he scored 54-runs. The number of runs scored was a pretty amazing feat considering that he only had 52-hits. It was his eye at the plate that was most impressive, as the FSU second baseman walked 41 times for a .388 on-base percentage.
His sophomore season saw the numbers rise. In 65-games, Tony hit .289 with a .392 slugging percentage. He slugged 6-homeruns again, drove in 48 and scored 55 runs. The Seminoles’ star had shown that he could perform well against the top talent in the country, but this was only a small taste of what was about to come.
In his junior season, Thomas took off. He led FSU with a .430 batting average, scored a team leading 91-runs and clubbed 11-homers. He posted a gaudy .522 OBP and his .733 slugging percentage led the team as well. That season he was named the ACC Player of the Year as he led his team to a 49-13 record.
Earning Himself a Spot in the Pros
During Tony’s junior season he began to realize that he had a real shot of becoming a professional ball player. His exceptional season was garnering a lot of national attention and it was clear that his decision to go to Florida State was paying off as he had imagined.
“Florida State wound up being the ideal choice because I was getting on TV and beginning to be nationally recognized. I thought to myself that I could get used to this and really started to recognize that I could probably make it to the next level.”
On draft day he got a call that changed his life.
“I got a call from the Cubs and they asked me if I wanted to be a Chicago Cub. I could not have asked for a better choice. That experience was just like one step closer to my ultimate goal of playing in the big leagues.”
Tony was chosen in the third round of the 2007 MLB amateur draft and off to the team’s rookie league team in Arizona he went. He played just five games there before being promoted to short-season Boise in the Northwest League. There he hit .308 in 46-games, with 44-runs scored and 33-RBI. He also added 28-stolen bases, proving that his last season at Florida State was not a fluke in anyway.
In 2008 he would be promoted again, this time to High-A Daytona. In 113-games he hit .255, scored 62-runs and stole 22-bases. Maybe more importantly, he showed a lot of style with the glove, making just 6-errors and posting a .989 fielding percentage.
That earned him another promotion in 2009, this time to AA-Tennessee, where he would spend the next two seasons. Tony hit .251 in 2009, but added 25 points to his average the next season. He hit 11-HR both years, but drove in 32 more runs in 2010 (41 to 73).
In 2011, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox organization and started the season at AA-Portland. He would stay there long. After just six games he was promoted to AAA-Pawtucket where he would spend most of the year. In 80-games, the junior Thomas hit .212 with 8-HR and 32-RBI.
He returned to Pawtucket in 2012 and saw an increase in all of his numbers. Tony played in 123-games, where he hit .242 with 10-homers, scored 35-runs, drove in 30, plus he stole 12 bases in 13 attempts. It was a better season all-around, but it was also a year where he spent five different occasions on the disabled list.
In 2013, he started at AA-Portland, where he struggled a bit, but he was promoted late in the season back to Pawtucket where he hit .283 in 16-games. He was finally feeling his swing come back after the nagging injuries from the year before, but was granted free agency by the club at the end of the year.
Tony signed with the Minnesota Twins organization and was sent to AA-New Britain. There he had a solid year, hitting .241 in 129-games, scoring 71-runs, belting 12-homers, and driving in 45. While his offensive numbers were not up to his standards, what was most appealing about Tony was that his glove continued to dazzle. He had proven that he could play third, short, second and left field, and do it all with great expertise. He had great range and was a steadying influence in the infield.
In 2015, Tony Thomas had a rather tumultuous season. He was released by the Twins coming out of Spring Training, but was then picked up by the Phillies. Seven weeks later he was back out on the market, but only for a short time before he signed with Detroit where he was sent to their AA team. Two months later he was released again and was signed by the Chicago White Sox, finding himself in AA-Birmingham. He spent 94-games in three different AA stops, combining to hit .249 with 9-HR and 47-runs driven in. In November, he was not resigned and was looking for work again.
A Heavenly Addition for St. Paul Saints
Looking for a chance to keep his career progressing, Tony Thomas opted to sign with the St. Paul Saints. The team had lost shortstop Anthony Phillips when he signed with the Los Angeles Angels, and Dan Kaczrowki had decided to retire again, leaving a huge void for the club. At the time, Saints Manager George Tsamis saw Thomas as a key signing that would help to keep the club on top.
“Tony is going to fit in well here. He has a real good swing and, from what I hear, he is a great clubhouse guy. He should be a big bat in our lineup.”
A big bat is exactly what he has been. In 66-games this season, the St. Paul infielder has hit .293 with 10-homers and 48-RBI. That has included a 26-game hitting streak earlier in the season and a selection to the American Association All-Star game.
Tony has not only done an amazing job at the plate, but has taken over the shortstop position and played exceptionally well there. He has made just eight-errors this season and has shown great leadership in the infield. This his only his fourth season playing short, and he has quickly found that it is a position that not only fits his skill set, but also inspires him to be even better in the game.
“I love it. I started mainly playing shortstop in 2013. I was a little nervous at playing it at first but after I played it for a little bit I gained that confidence factor that you are the captain of the team that everybody looks toward. You are the focal point. I took that as a responsibility and it made me more confident as a ballplayer.”
Character Is the Key
There is a lot to like about what Tony Thomas, Jr. has done at the plate for the St. Paul Saints. He has moved into the No. 3 position in the lineup and has been a one of the offensive catalysts for the team. He has also been a steadying influence on the defense and has helped the Saints to improve in that area since the start of the season.
However, the influence of the Saints’ infielder goes way beyond numbers and statistics. No matter what the situation is, Tony always has a smile on his face and he has become an incredibly positive influence on the St. Paul Saints.
They say that opposite charges attract one another, and this has been the key to why Tony has been so important to the Saints. It is not that his teammates are negative. It is a case where baseball is a game where players are meant to fail. It is a game where it is easy to be negative and to get down on one self. Tony has helped to keep his team upbeat and to get the positive energy flowing for the St. Paul Saints.
“This is a game of failure. You are going to fail and make mistakes more often than you succeed, but you have to focus on what you are doing right. If you get down on yourself, you are going to continue to make mistakes. But if you stay positive and keep trusting in yourself you will succeed. That is what I try to get across to the younger guys. This is a game for kids that we get to play for a living. I want them to have fun, and if I am positive then I think that can make a big difference.”
This is a philosophy he lives out on the field every day. He openly acknowledges that he will make mistakes and he will make them again and again. However, if he keeps focused on believing in himself he will have much greater success.
“You have to feed off positive energy because you’re going to mess up no matter what. It doesn’t matter who you’re talking about they’re going to make mistakes at times. Whether it’s with a strikeout or an error in the field or a bad throw, it’s going to happen at least once to everybody. The important part is that if you’ve messed up on a ground ball, to have the next one hit to you right away. Knowing that I’ll probably catch it allows me to feed off that positive energy at that point. Instead of dwelling on how I’ve missed it, the negative thoughts will lead to negative actions.”
He adds that the game is one where you can quickly go from goat to hero and this starts with a positive attitude and a keen mind.
“Being around this game for so long and understanding that I may go 0-5 today but go 5-5 tomorrow. Or I might go hitless in my first four at-bats but then have a walk off homerun in my fifth at-bat. Nobody cares about what you did before that. You’re going to make mistakes in this game. The most important thing is to learn the quickest way to be able to let it go.”
Every player will go through slumps at times. A period where things are not going their way at all, but those times can get even worse when mentally you are defeating yourself. Tony has found a way to ensure that he stays positive.
“I have a positive film that’s like a five-minute video about me getting hits. I’ll watch it and I’ll see myself getting hits and that brings me back to the positive thoughts because I’m seeing myself being successful. Then that confidence factor gets back in and that boosts my confidence level. If you’re defeated before you even get up there then you’re going to probably get defeated. If you believe you’re going to win no matter the obstacles the chances are you are going to succeed.”
The Energy Continues to Deliver Results
There are very few times when you will not see Tony Thomas smiling. He has become a positive charge in the Saints locker room and a steadying influence on the diamond. He has also inspired his teammates through his hard work and dedication, something he credits his dad for.
“My dad taught me to work hard and to fight for what you believe in. It’s paid off so far. I’m 30 and still blessed to play this game, just because of hard work and dedication.”
Tony will be participating in the American Association All-Star game Tuesday night at CHS Field. He has proven by his play that he is one of the best players in the league. More importantly, he has proven by his character that he may be the very best man on the diamond.
Tony Thomas is a man who brings a positive energy wherever he goes. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that just reading this article about the St. Paul Saints infielder has already made you feel better about life. It is part of the attraction that is Tony Thomas, Jr.
St. Paul Saints Images of Tony Thomas Courtesy of St. Paul Saints/Betsy Bissen
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA