Oak Ridge ace signs with Mizzou

Monday, November 15, 2010 ~ Updated 12:07 AM
Oak Ridge senior Brett Thomas signed Saturday to play baseball at the University of Missouri. (Southeast Missourian file)

Oak Ridge senior Brett Thomas caught the eye of more than one college coach when he pitched at a showcase at the University of Missouri in June.

"It was interesting after the game, there was a few coaches from different colleges -- I think Central Missouri and Kansas State and maybe Murray State -- that all kind of came up and said, 'We want to talk to Thomas after your done talking to your boys,'" said Jerry Kratochvil, who has coached Thomas in the Cherokees baseball program since he was 10.

"I said, 'All right, I'll be quick about it, I'll get it done,'" Kratochvil said. "Well, just as I was getting ready to talk to them the Mizzou coaches came over and said, 'Hey, can we talk to Brett?'"

That was all the other coaches needed to hear.

"As soon as I said, 'Yep,' and as soon as the other coaches saw that, they all left," said Kratochvil. "They just cleared out. If Mizzou's going to talk to him, we're out of here."

Thomas made his verbal commitment to Missouri official Saturday by signing his national letter of intent.

"It's good," Thomas said. "I'm glad it's over with. It's just the first step of many, I'm sure. I've got a long way to go. That's just a piece of paper. I've got to put in a lot of hours, but it's been fun."

Thomas led Oak Ridge to its second straight quarterfinal appearance with a 7-2 record last season. He had a 0.59 ERA and struck out 92 batters in 59 1/3 innings.

He then resumed his position at the top of the Cherokees rotation last summer. Kratochvil said his staff has pitched Thomas against the Cherokees' best competition over the years.

"He always responded," Kratochvil said. "He never backed down, and that's part of his makeup. That's why he's at where he's at."

But to succeed on the mound at Missouri, which had its string of seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances broken last season, Thomas knows, and has been told, there is plenty of room for improvement.

"The coaches were really very truthful and honest with us," said Dave Thomas, Brett's father. "They told Brett that they thought he had the potential, he needed to improve, and if he did what they wanted him to do he had a shot at playing."

Brett viewed that message as a positive one.

"That's a good thing," Thomas said. "That means I'm not just stuck where I am now. They're not taking me for what I am, but what I could be. So it makes you feel better that you think that you can achieve more and more and more, and just keep working toward a goal. It's going to take a lot of man hours, but hopefully it works out in the end."

While he's more than a year away from putting on a Missouri uniform, Thomas already has started to trim down and rebuild his 6-foot-2 frame with the help of Missouri's coaching staff.

"Everything I do -- every dumbbell I lift, every calorie I eat -- I have to tell them in an e-mail," Thomas said.

He gets messages back from pitching coach Matt Hobbs with suggested changes and tips.

"I'd say eating -- definitely I've changed," Thomas said when asked what he does differently now than before he was recruited. "And a lot more flexible band workouts, not so much just pumping iron and getting bulked up, trying to stay flexible. I've definitely done more legs and abs than I ever have done before."

Thomas throws four pitches -- fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup -- and reaches 88 mph on radar guns.

He can hit, too. He batted .547 for Oak Ridge as a junior with 12 home runs and only five strikeouts in 26 games. But his focus likely will be the mound at Missouri.

"The good thing is that Brett has gotten better each year," Kratochvil said. "He keeps getting a little bit better and he's not afraid to work hard. I think that's what he's going to need to do at Mizzou.

"They're going to get him in shape, work with him on mechanics a little bit and get him a little extra velocity. And I'm convinced that he can do well if he puts his mind to it because he's a fighter. He's a competitor. He loves the sport."

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