June 21, 2012
Kansas City, MO –Chris Thomas, a 6-foot-2 right-handed pitcher who just capped his collegiate career by leading Avila University to a Heart of America Athletic Conference title and NAIA tournament appearance, recently took a major step toward realizing his dream of one day playing baseball in the major leagues.
Thomas, a Liberty, Mo. product, was signed by the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and assigned to one of their rookie clubs in the Gulf Coast League in Jupiter, Fla.
In fact, Thomas actually made his professional pitching debut for the GLC Cardinals June 19 against the GLC Astros, working one inning and retiring all three batters he faced, earning the team’s first win of the season.
“I hadn’t thrown in about a month, since the last game I pitched for Avila,” Thomas said over the phone from Florida. “It was just getting my rhythm back. It’s going pretty well.”
Things have been going well for Thomas since last spring, when he went 12-2 in 14 starts for the Eagles and posting a very impressive earned-run average of 1.53. He struck out 121 batters while walking only 21.
Perhaps most impressively, he threw a fastball that consistently clocked north of 90 mph.
“Major league scouts are always looking for that kind of raw talent,” said Avila baseball coach Daryl Cronk. “He has to keep developing his change-up and slider. But, I think chances are real good for Chris.
“He worked hard for this, and he deserves it.”
Thomas’ talents began attracting major league scouts early last spring. Cronk, who played a couple of seasons in the minor leagues and once scouted for the Tampa Bay Rays, contacted some scouts he knew and interest started trickling in.
“I played in the Independent League and knew what it took to play at the professional level,” Cronk said. “Knowing what I had in Chris, I wanted him to have that chance.”
Thomas and Cronk were “cautiously optimistic” that Thomas would get selected in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft. That didn’t happen, but a few days later, Thomas received a call from a pair of scouts from the Cardinals, who scheduled a day to come to the Avila baseball field and watch Thomas pitch.
A few days after that, the Cardinals offered Thomas a contract.
“There’s really no way to describe what that felt like,” Thomas said. “Everything you work for all those years … to have it finally all come together was a great feeling.
“I just hopped on a plane and got down (to Florida). I didn’t sign my contract until I got here.”
Thomas, who transferred to Avila after two seasons at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, Mo., said his two years with the Eagles were instrumental in getting him to this point.
“This last year was my favorite season of my college career,” he said of the Eagles’ 41-16 season which saw them win the regular-season HAAC championship and advance to the NAIA tournament for the second time in the last three years. “The coaches were great, helped me a lot. Coach Cronk did a great job. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve had and worked hard for us. I give him a lot of credit for helping me get here.”
Cronk said, “I just wanted this for him, but it’s good for our program, too. It helps with our recruiting. Now, we can tell recruits we’ve had a kid go on to affiliated ball, that these opportunities exist here.”
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.