"BAD's Comeback Player Of The Year"
A Player Profile on the Resilient Derrel Thomas

"In 1992 my nightmare began..."

There 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."

Yet 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.

Today, 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."

You 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 Jim Dantona.

It 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."

Don't 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.

Derrel 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 it."

The 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 history."

With 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."

Perhaps 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."

California Winter League is located at:
7223 Church St.
Highland, CA 92346
(909) 425-9295

 

 
BASEBALLERS AGAINST DRUGS
P.O. Box 1438 Simi Valley, CA 93062 | 805-583-1439 | homerun@bad.org