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Mike Thomas has been Harvard's third baseman for three years, and during that time the team has won 78 games while losing only 22. In 1970 the Crimson missed winning the EIBL by only one game, and for the last two years it has tied for first place with Cornell.
A major reason for this year's success is the winning tradition carried on by the team's six seniors, and in his role as captain, Thomas considers himself first among equals. "Whenever anything is wrong one of them will always get up and say something about it. Each of the seniors is a captain in a certain sense, and the sophomores look up to them all," he said.
The sense of unity among the seniors was increased last summer when five of them played on the same team in the Boston Park League. Thomas is a veteran of three summer seasons, and after Harvard returned from Omaha, Art Serrano, Vince McGugan. Toby Harvey and Tim Bilodeau joined him to form the backbone of the Kelley Club.
Harvard's fifth place finish or the College World Series is another psychological asset that Thomas feels makes a big difference. "We feel more beatable now that we don't have Pete Varney and Dan DiMichele in the line-up, but after having been out at Omaha, we never feel outclassed. When we face a good pitcher I know that if I don't get a hit someone else will," Thomas said.
Even though the Crimson no longer has the benefit of DiMichele's heavy hitting. "The Monk" established an attitude towards baseball that makes Thomas' job as captain much easier. Manager Hollis McLoughlin has taken over the duty of leading calisthenics, and before big games he is instrumental in psyching out the opposition. After leading the players in a snake line around the outfield. McLoughlin puts them through a less than rigorous set of exercises that range from football reflex drills to flashing the peace sign.
Last weekend the Yale team tried to copy this ritual and failed miserably. After that the Elis never recovered from the psychological impact of this initial defeat, and lost both ends of the doubleheader, 3-0 and 9-2.
"If this team has a superstar it has to be Hollis. In addition to all of the organizational work he does. Hollis is the guy who contributes the most to the team's morale. He is DiMichele's successor as the team jester," Thomas said.
Thomas grew up in West Roxbury, the fifth of seven brothers, and the direction of his athletic development was determined by the needs of neighborhood pick-up games. Thomas was a quarterback on the freshman football team, but baseball has always been his main interest. His brother Jack was a pro prospect when he was playing for the Air Force, and Thomas still seeks his advice about hitting.
Hit Most Doubles
Thomas bats fifth in the Crimson line-up, and of the team's four .300 hitters, he has the best power. Last year he collected 11 doubles to set a new Harvard record, but he tries not to think of himself as a power hitter. "Whenever I hit a home run, the next time up I'll be trying to pull the ball no matter where it's pitched. It's an unconscious thing, and it usually takes me a game or two before I get back into the groove," he said.
Thomas feels that the most important thing for him as a hitter is "waiting" on the ball and then hitting it to right field if the pitch is on the outside corner. Thomas is a natural "pull" hitter, which means that when he hits the ball his bat is well out in front of his body. This type of swing gives a hitter more power because the center of his weight is transferred to his front foot.
Slap of the Wrists
Hitting an outside pitch properly requires what Thomas calls an "inside out" swing, in which the hitter's wrists are in front of the barrel of the bat when contact with the ball is made. The ball is "slapped" to the opposite field, and only a hitter with very strong wrists can do this with power.
Thomas feels that this is an especially important skill for anyone batting in the middle of the line-up. "When you bat third, fourth or fifth the pitchers throw a lot more curves, and when I try to pull them I almost always ground out to the shortstop," he said.
Thomas is unsure about what he will do after graduation. He would like to do some coaching, but he doesn't want to make it his career. "I'm interested in teaching, but the American school systems are pretty screwed up, especially around here," he said.
"I know that I'll miss my teammates. These are the guys who fit in best with me and what I enjoy doing. I wish I could play baseball with them for the rest of my life," Thomas said.
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