|Player Development Mgr/Asst. Coach, Mike Samuels (left), tells knuckleballer, Thomas Wright, he’s been invited to Spring training|
By Gabe SchapiroAs the saying goes, age is just a number. That is proving to be more than just a maxim around Admirals country these days. Spring Training is just around the corner, and among those vying for a roster spot, is 56-year-old Thomas Wright.No, that’s not a typo. And no, it’s not a gimmick, but it certainly has all the dimensions of a movie script in the making.Wright, a BYU grad, began his baseball career like many have before him, by playing catch with his brother. Somewhere along the way, they started playing around with the infamous knuckleball. Cue the foreshadowing. At the time, it wasn’t a career-maker; it was just a couple of kids having some fun with a baseball.
He wasn’t a pitcher, after all. He was an outfielder. He was fleet of foot, and had some pop. In high school, however, he was very small in stature.
“I got picked on a lot for it, so I never really felt like I fit in with the baseball crowd, it was a rough group. I wasn’t ready for it.”
As a result, at the age of 17, Wright put his baseball dreams on hold. He turned his attention to the pool, where he started working with kids as a swimming coach, and swam in college. All the while, however, his mind was never far from a baseball diamond.
“I liked swimming,” Wright explains, “but I didn’t have the ability to take it to the Olympics. I always felt like my greatest talents were with baseball, so the entire time I was swimming, I was just wishing I was back out on the field.”
It wasn’t until after college, and after returning from a mission for his church, that he found his way back to his true passion. Wright was 27 by the time he put his cleats and baseball glove back on. He started attending tryouts in an attempt to get noticed and grab any opportunity that might come his way.
Unfortunately, he quickly found that the atmosphere for a 27-year old, in world that starts heavily scouting prospects before they can legally drive a car, was often not a particularly welcoming one. In all, Wright has now been to over 100 tryouts, and describes a similar scenario at the majority of them.
“They have 200 guys show up, sign one pitcher, and won’t even look at some of the guys because they’re 24 instead of 21.”
In the following three decades, Wright had brief stops with the Miami Miracle (1989), at the time an independent team that has since changed it’s name and become the Minnesota Twins Single-A affiliate, three different stops in the Mexican League (1992, ’96, and ’97), and Spring Training with the New York Yankees (1995).
Each opportunity was short lived, with his age being a factor. “It’s been really tough,” Wright continues, “with the Yankees, I only got three at bats before Buck Showalter called me in, and tells me that George Steinbrenner wants the younger guys moved up. So they had to let me go.”
After spending his entire career as an outfielder, Wright decided to take a new approach. He climbed a pitchers mound, called back to his days of throwing a knuckleball around with his brother, and found a new home. It was an option he had kept in his back pocket for years, knowing the reputation the pitch has for extending careers.
A scout would scoff at a 50-something outfielder, but maybe they’d give a second look to a 50-year old equipped with a dancing knuckler.
With his new secret weapon, Wright restarted his campaign to launch a baseball career. In 2013, he appeared on the Fox News morning show, “Fox and Friends.” That spring boarded into a tryout with the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers, and inquiries from the Miami Marlins, and Chicago Cubs.
Alas, those clubs never got further than taking a look. Despite the obstacles and being told countless times that he was too old, Wright insists that he’s not done yet.
“I feel like I haven’t gotten a legitimate shot at baseball, so it’s hard for me to let it die. As long as I feel like I can still physically do it, I’m going to keep at it.”
With the Vallejo Admirals, however, he may have found that legitimate shot he’s been chasing for so long. After seeing so many tryouts come and go with so few prospects being signed, Wright perks up when he describes being a part of the group that the Admirals invited to spring training.
“When I saw that the Admirals were signing 12 of us, it made me go ‘wow!’ They are really interested in what kind of talent is out there. It’s a legitimate opportunity, and I really appreciate it.”
In a twist of poetic irony, Wright’s career hasn’t been entirely dissimilar from the pitch that has allowed him to extend it. The trajectory has never been straight, and the pace hasn’t been quick.
The road has been bumpy, but for Wright, the dream is still alive, and it runs through Vallejo.
Catch a glimpse of Thomas Wright, and all the other hopeful Admirals, at spring training, which begins May 20th at Dan Foley Park, and is open to the public.