E.T. has come home

E.T. has come home and the University of Florida has him. Former Gainesville Buchholz player Eric Thomas wasn’t quite ready for Southeastern Conference play and enrolled at Daytona Beach Community College under the direction of former Florida star Tim Touma. Thomas has made the most of his opportunities and is ready to help the Gators to an SEC crown.

The right hander received the Mid-Florida Conference Scholar Athlete Award where he also helped the Falcons to the league title while posting a 7-3 record. The Falcons had the highest overall team grade point average among National Junior College Athletic Association members with a 3.49 GPA.

Thomas, who is the younger brother of former Buchholz/University of Miami/Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver Lamar Thomas is excited about the opportunity to play for Kevin O’Sullivan and a new Florida staff. 

“I enjoyed being getting to know Coach (Pat) McMahon and Coach (Ross) Jones through the recruiting process, but I understand that sometimes changes have to be made,” he said. “I’m excited about playing at Florida. It’s a good opportunity for me and all of the guys coming in because everything is open. You really just have to go out and prove yourself.”

He spoke to the Florida coaches after graduating from Buchholz where he earned second team all-state honors. The 5-11, 180 was drafted in the 29th round by the Seattle Mariners in 2005. He was advised by McMahon and Jones to work on his game at a junior college and they promised to keep in touch with him. His efforts paid off and he has returned home.

“I talked to Bethune-Cookman a lot,” Thomas recalled. “But, I felt like Florida was the best place to go. I really wanted to play in a good conference like the SEC and I’m glad that I’ll get that opportunity. They had talked to me when I was at Buchholz (high school), but they told me that they thought I needed a little more development and they advised me to go to a community college. I went to Daytona and improved and they offered.”

His fastball tops out around 90 miles per hour and he has flourished under Touma’s direction. And you can bet that O’Sullivan is well-versed as two of Touma’s former Daytona Beach Community College players suited up for the Clemson Tigers and were drafted a few weeks ago in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. Thomas has plenty to show O’Sullivan.

“I actually have six pitches,” Thomas said. “It’s a lot of work, but I’ve practiced with all of them and if you can throw them in practice you should be able to throw them in a game. I throw a four seam fastball that naturally has a sink to it. I have a lot of natural movement on my fastball. I have a curve that I’ve worked on all summer. I have a sinking change-up and a split finger fastball, which is my out pitch. It acts like a forkball. When it’s on that day, it locks them out. My slider is pretty good, but could improve.  It’s pretty good at this stage.  I’m pretty happy with it.”

“I throw all of them,” he continued. “I get a lot of fly balls with my change-up. My sinkers are good to for those ground balls. Like I said though, when I need a pitch, my slider is that pitch. I can locate most of them pretty well whenever I need to do that. There’s always room for improvement and you want to learn different spots to locate the ball in certain situations. I really have good command of my slider.”

Thomas was a starter, but also was called out of the bullpen on occasion to help put out the fires. He fanned 58 batters in 69.1 innings.

“This year started off kind of slow,” Thomas recalled. “The freshmen were breaking in and trying to get loose. We were playing Sumter and we were in a three game losing streak. It was in a 1-1 ball game in the fifth inning. Our pitcher was kind of struggling, guys were getting on base, but Sumter was having trouble getting them in to score. I came out of the bullpen.  I had nine strikeouts in five innings. We ended up going into extra innings and won the game. I’ll remember that one for awhile, because it really helped spark our team. Our freshmen really stepped up after that game and we really got it going.”

Thankfully, when O’Sullivan reaches for the phone to call E.T.- it will be a local call.