Baseball Superstar Enjoys Return to Auburn

Frank Thomas talks about coming back to Auburn to be honored as a member of the first Wall of Fame Class at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--Frank Thomas came to Auburn on a football scholarship to play tight end, but he made the decision to concentrate on baseball in college and he obviously made the right choice.

Playing baseball for the Tigers from 1987-89, he compiled a .382 career batting average, the second best in Auburn history, and left with a .722 slugging percentage, the best for an Auburn player.

In 1989 he became a consensus All-American with an SEC-best .403 batting average while hitting 19 home runs with 83 RBI while leading the Tigers to the SEC Tournament title and into the NCAA Tournament.

His football coaches at Auburn said Thomas was a guy who could make it in the NFL as a tight end. His Auburn baseball coach, Hal Baird, saw the first baseman's potential to make it big in pro baseball and that is what happened.

Baird predicts that Thomas will be the first Auburn athlete to be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame when Thomas becomes eligible for that honor in 2014.

Thomas remembers making the decision to play only baseball at Auburn and says when he decided to concentrate on one sport he never looked back.

Asked if he had second thoughts about the decision, he says, "No, because I came out of a strong baseball program at Columbus High School. I was prepared to play baseball. I was prepared to play football.

"When it came down to it, longevity was something I started thinking about," he says. "I saw so many great players from Sewell Hall over there who didn't make it who should have made it who were much more talented than me in football. It is amazing how things work out. To come in on a full football scholarship and walk on to this baseball field was a beautiful thing."

Thomas, who returned to Auburn on Saturday to be inducted into the first Wall of Fame group at Plainsman Park along with Gregg Olson, Bo Jackson and Tim Hudson, notes it was his first trip back to Auburn in 11 years.

"It is a little different," he says. "The field looks the same so it is like being at home. There are all the nice stands now and the nice wall, but Auburn is Auburn and I am just happy to be back in the old stomping grounds."

He notes that he went by Toomer's Corner to check it out while in town "to make sure it is still standing and it looks great still. I am just proud to be back here."

Thomas says that Auburn has really changed physically since he attended the university and last visited and notes at times he was "almost lost" driving around the campus. "I have a 17-year-old son who is going to school," he says. "I told him I am taking you to a real college. He was overwhelmed when he saw the university. I told him this is a real school down here."

Thomas says he is excited to be included in the first group of Wall of Fame honorees. "It is tremendous, especially with so many talented guys who had hell of college careers and unbelievable pro careers," he says. "It is a proud day for Auburn baseball."

Shown above is the Wall of Fame display for Frank Thomas.

Introducing the Wall of Famers was Baird, the man who coached all four of the stars.

Thomas makes it clear he holds the retired coach in high regard. "At the time Hal definitely pushed me," Thomas recalls. "He was always comparing me to Bo. Bo could go on top of that building out in centerfield and he said maybe if you would work out a little harder you could accomplish some of those things. I said, ‘Coach, there is only one Bo Jackson.' He pushed me and got me ready to play at the next level and it was so good to see Hal."

"I was lucky to play for Hal," Thomas adds. "He had been around so many big leaguers that he was able to easily compare you and tell you what you were lacking and prepare you for the next level."

One the top hitters in Major League history, Thomas wrapped up his baseball career as part of an elite group of stars who hit .300 or better, had at least 1,500 RBI, 500 or more home runs and an on-base percentage of .400 or better for their careers. The other three are baseball superstars Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Mel Ott.

Now that he has retired from baseball, what is Thomas going to do?

"I am going to take it one day of a time," he says. "Nineteen years of it at the Major League level took a toll on my life. I didn't get to see the kids grow up like I wanted to see them grow up. I?missed so much valuable time with the kids I am just happy to pause and take a break and just enjoy life a little bit.

"I have been offered a little TV work with Comcast Chicago so we will so how that works out," he adds. "I just don't want get involved in full-time anything right now, but I would definitely love to get back (into baseball) in the next few years helping hitters or whatever else in Major League Baseball."

Asked what he is most proud of regarding his Major League career that includes two Most Valuable Player awards, he says, "Staying clean and doing it the right way, and all of that started here. I grew up there at Sewell Hall and was around some of the greatest football players ever and I saw what took them to get to the next level. They helped me get there, too. It was the hard work and determination."

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