Comeback Player Of The Year"
Player Profile on the Resilient Derrel Thomas
1992 my nightmare began..."
is a serene humility in the voice of this former Major
Leaguer who played the game with an athleticism and swagger
that brought hometown fans to love him and rivals to despise
him in equal degree. The words contrast sharply with the
man whose love for the game is so strong that he still
teaches the sport and proudly and fondly recalls of his
playing days, "You have no idea how much fun I was
having out there."
here was Derrel Thomas, 15-year veteran of 7 clubs, candidly
sharing the horror of spending 47 days in prison that
changed his outlook. Pleading no contest to cocaine charges
in 1992, Derrel describes his confinement as "the
defining moment in my life." A popular high school
coach at the time, he watched everything he had worked
for come crashing down around him.
Derrel Osbon Thomas could be Baseballers Against Drugs'
choice for Comeback Player of the Year as he works with
BAD and his own non-profit organization, California Winter
League. Teaching the fundamentals of baseball to kids
from 7-18 years of age, there is more to Derrel's message
than "keep your eye on the ball." In fact, when
you speak to this articulate veteran of baseball and life,
you are sure the message is "keep your eye on your
future." There is a definite sense of spirituality
in this man who believes in building a strong foundation
of character and self-esteem in young people. "Peer
pressure can be devastating to a 15-year old. The expectations
of those around them weigh heavily and they don't always
realize what their options are. Indecision can make the
difference of choosing between good and evil. I should
know. But you gain more from good than you ever can from
evil. It comes back to you tenfold."
are at once impressed by Derrel's sincere desire to "give
back to kids," and you see it in the animated way
in which he conducts a clinic. "When Derrel puts
on a uniform to work with kids, you feel certain he could
still go out there and play today, " says BAD's founder
is that very credibility that Derrel says is most important
to kids. "It 's not just because baseball was my
profession. I'm a human being who has knowledge of the
game, but I am human." Derrel's "been there-done
that" school of ball and hard knocks translates well
to impressionable young students. "I speak from experience,
not theory. If admitting to my mistakes can make a difference
to a vulnerable boy or girl, then I'm going to do it."
get the wrong impression. Derrel's life has been more
than a glaring mistake. A baseball star at Dorsey High
School in Los Angeles, he was the first overall draft
pick of the Winter 1969 free-agent draft. A standout pitcher
and shortstop that hit over .580, the Houston Astros signed
him before trading him to the San Diego Padres in 1972,
where Derrel enjoyed his first full season.
was a jack-of-all-trades whose career batting average
of .249 is deceptive because Derrel competed in so many
ways. He was a valuable and versatile athlete, playing
every position except pitcher in his Major League career
and stealing 140 bases. This versatility and his ability
to do the little things like bunt, hit-and-run, or provide
the clutch hit made him an exceptional asset to a team.
His competitive edge and sheer love for the game translated
into unrelenting, on the field energy that excited the
home crowd, while agitating opposing pitchers and fans.
Baseball was never boring with Derrel Thomas on the field.
"I was living a dream and I wanted everyone to know
dream came to fruition when Derrel signed as free agent
with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a club that he says was,
and is, a "first class organization." Growing
up idolizing Dodger legend Maury Wills, Derrel would don
his number 30, spending 5 years with the Dodgers including
a World Championship season in 1981. "I'll never
forget the overwhelming feeling of walking into Yankee
Stadium to play in the World Series...like walking into
memories like that, Derrel Thomas has a lot to offer the
young athlete with whom he works. "Now I'm working
with kids on how to accomplish goals, how to structure
their careers. I want them to focus on the fundamentals
and to ask themselves, where do they want to be ten years
down the road."
that is the question Derrel forgot to ask himself back
in 1992 and got lost along the way. Today he has his sights
set on becoming a roving minor league instructor, a "teacher
of the game," reminding young ballplayers to "work
hard because you only get out of baseball what you put
into it...just like life."
Winter League is located at:
7223 Church St.
Highland, CA 92346