MESA, Ariz. (AP) — They call him “Big Boy” in the Oakland A’s clubhouse, a nod to the bulging biceps, triceps and pectoral muscles that launched 124 home runs in the Korean Baseball Organization and 72 more for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Whether the power generated from Eric Thames’ 5-foot-11, 235-pound frame can still produce runs is the latest question for the 35-year-old, who has played in Canada, Venezuela, Japan, South Korea, six MLB organizations, Pepperdine University and two community colleges since starring at shortstop at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, California.
“My family is still there in the South Bay and San Jose, so it will be awesome to make this club, to play in front of them as much as I can,’’ Thames said on Sunday, beaming. “For many of us, we don’t know how long we get to keep playing, so it means a lot to me. ‘’
Thames is bidding for playing time as a designated hitter, and at first base, in the aftermath of Matt Olson’s trade to Atlanta two weeks ago.
He is jumping for high throws, stretching for long hops and scooping groundballs and low throws on an Achilles tendon that flared last season, limiting his foray with Yomiuri in Japan to nine games.
“Last year was a nightmare for me,’’ Thames said. “I got hurt the first game and then with COVID, not getting to be around teammates. So once I got the call from the A’s, I thought, ‘Hey there’s opportunity here.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, sign me up. Let’s go, to get back on the field again, and to be going home.'”
Thames’ last stint in the majors was with Washington in 2020, when he hit .203 with three home runs in 41 games.
As a non-roster invitee with the A’s, Thames reported to camp during the lockout and continued to rebuild flexibility and strength in his Achilles.
“That gave him a little bit of a head start, which I think he benefitted from, just getting his legs underneath him,’’ manager Mark Kotsay said.
Thames said, “It’s just a matter of building up the reps, and talking to Kotsay, he’s not trying to rush me into it. I ease into it. Going back to first base and moving around, it feels really good, despite the normal spring training soreness. Every year, the camps are getting shorter and shorter. I just want to be jumping and running out there at first base for nine innings.’’
While “Big Boy” is a noticeable figure around the clubhouse, and noted for his star turn on “King of Mask Singer” on Korean television, Kotsay is hopeful that his players take note of his habits, not just his amazing physique.
“Eric is a definition of a true pro. He goes about his business the right way. And that’s a bonus, from our standpoint, as far as veteran leadership,” Kotsay said.
Thames launched his first Cactus League homer last Friday.
“The home run was nice, but I don’t really care about hits and home runs during spring training, even though I’m fighting for a job,’’ Thames said. “I just want to make sure my eyes are working, seeing balls and strikes, and having a clear head, to work at-bats, work counts … just being able to hone that in, so opening day when the bell rings, being able to help this team win.’’
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