Lane Thomas’s highway to the majors began together with his dad on the racing circuit


The primary time Lane Thomas signed an autograph was greater than twenty years in the past, earlier than he acquired drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, earlier than he roamed the outfield for the Washington Nationals. He was three years outdated, with a mop of soiled blond hair.

The 12 months was 1998, and Thomas’s father, Mike, had simply gained a Nationwide Scorching Rod Affiliation race in Chicago. When Mike was requested to signal autographs, Lane began doling his out as nicely.

“Now that I’m sufficiently old, I’m like, ‘Properly, I used to be simply handing them out.’ They most likely didn’t even need it,” Thomas, now 26, stated. “They most likely thought it was cute or one thing, however they didn’t even ask me.”

This 12 months, the demand for that autograph has elevated as Thomas’s profile has risen in his first full season with Washington. His hitting in June was a vibrant spot for the struggling Nationals. Thomas has rotated out and in of the lineup all season and spent a stretch within the leadoff spot. Thomas’s bat has cooled of late, however the outfielder has been working to regain the stride he hit earlier in the summertime. With three extra years of workforce management after this season, he’s anticipated to be part of the membership’s fast future, whether or not as an on a regular basis participant or a reserve outfielder.

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After all, there are ups and downs. However navigating these ups and downs — Thomas discovered about that from his father, too. Thomas attributes a lot of how he views competitors, each successful and shedding, to watching his father on the skilled racing circuit. He noticed his dad work by way of slumps and emerge with thrilling wins, watched him make minor, split-second changes that might have main payoffs. It interprets, he stated, to baseball, the place he takes diligent notes that assist inform changes. He desires to be aggressive whereas nonetheless judicial within the batter’s field.

As a lot as he beloved touring to observe his dad race, baseball caught Thomas’s eye from a younger age. He and his father would play catch on the highway at any alternative, recollections that Mike appears to be like again on fondly now.

“He might by no means get sufficient baseball,” Mike Thomas stated. “You may say, ‘Need to go to the lake this weekend, son?’ He’d say, ‘No, I wish to play baseball, Dad.’ That’s been his life need, and he’s dwelling it.”

Alongside the best way, Mike Thomas has stayed concerned as Lane has seen his desires solidify into actuality. Thomas was drafted in 2014 by the Blue Jays, however in 2017 was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals group. He hung out with the Class-AA Springfield Cardinals in Missouri and the Class-AAA Memphis Redbirds in his residence state of Tennessee, and his father would journey incessantly to observe him play, making the most of the improved proximity.

Thomas acquired his first main league call-up in April 2019, starting a two-year stretch that noticed him break up time between St. Louis and Class-AAA Memphis.

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When Thomas was traded to the Nationals in July 2021, Mike Thomas continued to journey to see him play, a mixture of flights to Washington for homestands and strategically scheduled highway journeys. Mike Thomas tries to observe his son play no less than a few times a month; he made the journey to Atlanta for a latest highway sequence towards the Braves, and he’ll be in attendance for the Washington’s sequence towards the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

It’s a reversal of their state of affairs twenty years in the past, when Lane tagged alongside for his father’s cross-country journeys.

“He’s at all times telling me ‘ what you are able to do,’ ” Lane Thomas stated. “I believe that’s the largest a part of it’s simply being my greatest fan.”

Thomas additionally appreciates that his father holds him to a excessive customary, even anticipating extra out of him than the outfielder does himself. The 2 discuss incessantly earlier than and after video games, usually however not at all times about baseball. Drawing on parallels from his personal profession, the elder Thomas tries to offer steering, generally ready to chime in till he’s requested and different instances sharing his ideas extra readily.

Mike Thomas stated that stability has at instances elicited a joke from his son, a reference to “Moneyball.”

“Typically he’ll say, ‘Dad, you simply suppose you’re Billy Beane, don’t you?’ ” Mike Thomas stated with fun.

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There was a time when Mike did coach his son, when Lane was rising up in Knoxville. Mike Thomas served as an assistant coach, and his retirement from skilled drag racing in 2008 allowed for much more time together with his son’s workforce.

“He was only a workaholic,” Lane Thomas stated of his father, who beforehand owned a series of carwashes and now owns a steel fabrication firm. “After which he acquired to do his pastime as a job for a little bit bit, too, like I do.”

Mike Thomas considers it heartwarming to know that his profession helped form what his son’s has changed into, and he laughs when he thinks again to enjoying catch on the highway with Lane as a baby. Different stalwarts of the drag-racing circuit would comment on Lane’s arm, a humorous sample to mirror on now.

“It’s so troublesome to make Main League Baseball,” Mike Thomas stated. “It’s simply unbelievable generally.”

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