SHANKS: How long did you originally feel you'd be in the big leagues?
THOMAS: When I first got up there I figured I'd be up there for a week or two, however long it would take for (DeWayne) Wise to get back. I didn't even know the situation. (Richmond Manager) Pat (Kelly) came into my hotel room that day and told me that Wise had gotten hurt and I was going up. I didn't know what the whole deal was, how he had gotten hurt or anything like that. I just figured I'd be up there a week or two. Then the way the writers and stuff were talking (after he had been up a few weeks), I figured I might have a chance to stay up there and all that.
SHANKS: When did you get your first big league hit?
THOMAS: I got my first hit when I pinch-hit in Florida (second game there) the night Dontrelle pitched. I pinch hit that game and got a hit.
SHANKS: Can you tell me about your first big league start on that Friday in Baltimore?
THOMAS: It rained that day. We didn't know if we were going to be able to play because there was more rain in the forecast. Luckily we got it done. It can't remember now if we were delayed or not, but there was a lot of sitting around. We had to hit in the cages (underneath). So the first time I got on the field was once the game started.
SHANKS: Did you ever feel early in July that you had to go out and make an impression to stay up there?
THOMAS: No. I was having such a great time just being up there and trying to do the best I could. It was such a shock to be called up and actually be there. I tried as much as I could to not even worry about that because I felt like if I did the best I could up there and was sent down, then hopefully I could be up again in September and have a chance to be with the club next year.
SHANKS: Was it kind of fun to almost introduce yourself to the Braves fan base by playing?
THOMAS: Oh yea for sure. There's always that "not having anything to lose," and certainly when you get an opportunity you've always got something to lose whether people thought you were supposed to be there or not. Once you get an opportunity, I feel like you do have something to lose there since you want to make an impression.
SHANKS: Was there ever a time there early on that you were afraid about going down?
THOMAS: No. Luckily for me it started out pretty well, and like I said I felt like even if I was sent down I'd have an opportunity to get back up in September.
SHANKS: You had probably heard about Bobby and making a first impression?
THOMAS: Yes. You know what's weird about that? We were in Charlotte in the end of May and Beach (Minor League Instructor Jim Beauchamp) and P.K. (Pat Kelly) were in there talking and I think Stubby (Minor League Instructor Franklin Stubbs) was in there as well. They were just talking and (Mike) Hessman had been up there. We were wishing him well. Beach was just talking about how big it was to make a good first impression to get some more playing time and get some starts and stuff up there. It didn't have anything to do with me, but I certainly remembered that. Those guys gave me a call the day I got called up. I got off the plan when I finally got into Florida. I listened to all my messages. Beach was calling saying not to change anything and just keep doing what I had been doing. Stubby was calling too.
SHANKS: What did Beach mean to you throughout your minor league career?
THOMAS: A ton. I'm sure there were many situations where I could have certainly been released and I think he was one of the main guys in my corner. He always believed in me, even when I struggled. He was always willing to work with me, and I could feel that. It meant a whole bunch.
SHANKS: What was it like for your teammates? Could you feel their excitement for you?
THOMAS: That was great. I think it happened after that when Wise got optioned out. It was kind of like…that was the point when Wise got optioned out when I thought, "ok you have a job to do." Obviously coming up with nothing to lose and (thinking) you're going back down was over, but now I really had to help the team and I was going to have to be an important part. It certainly changed the perspective of things.
SHANKS: How much did you and Nick Green have to do the Braves turnaround?
THOMAS: I don't know. It's a hard question to answer. He and I just really went out there and did the best we could and played as hard as we could. I've said a couple of times before that I think we were just feeding off those guys and the atmosphere that we were in and the opportunity that we had been given. We were just trying to make the best of it. I can't really speak to how I might have affected the other guys, but we just went out there and played hard.
SHANKS: When you settled into the platoon with Eli, is that when you had to pinch yourself?
THOMAS: I pinched myself all the time just sitting around realizing what I was involved with. I really enjoyed that. We knew basically from the get go that I was going to have every opportunity to start against the righties. I really enjoyed that. We really encouraged each other. That was a lot of fun. Obviously as a player, you want to be in there everyday. But who can complain about playing an at all in the major leagues? Just me being there was so special. I really enjoyed the platoon.
SHANKS: And you and Eli really encouraged each other?
THOMAS: Yea I really enjoyed it. We really encouraged each other until the end.
SHANKS: What was the last month like when you knew you guys were going to win the division?
THOMAS: Oh man. You couldn't help everyday sitting in there looking up at that scoreboard seeing what the Phillies were doing and what the Marlins were doing. That was a great time realizing that if we just handled business we'd win the division again. Then we moved on to us winning it and those expectations again and the history of things happening in the playoffs and all that. Obviously it didn't work out for us. But it was exciting seeing all those ads on TV about October, 8 teams and one champion, and it really starts hitting you that you're going to have an opportunity to play on a stage that you've watched for so many years. It's almost surreal.
SHANKS: And here you were on a team that wins every year?
THOMAS: Right. But it was a completely different perspective and a completely different appreciation for every guy on that team for how far we had come. Just the unique perspective I've had coming in since I hadn't been with the team the whole year. We had a bad record and were down (in the standings). I got in there when we were down six and a half. It just didn't seem like a good team. To have the turnaround we had and to pull it together like we did to accomplish that…I couldn't have been prouder to be apart of that.
SHANKS: I know the playoffs were disappointing, but what was the experience to just be there?
THOMAS: It was a lot of fun. It's hard to talk about now since it all came crashing down. We had such an emotional win in Game four and an emotional win in game two. We really felt like going home we were going to win it. It was such a shock going into that clubhouse after that fifth game that we weren't moving on to the next round. We got in that clubhouse after the fourth game. Everybody was excited even though we had one more left. We were going back home. Houston was such a tough place to play. I've never been close to a place where it was so loud. Those people were on their feet all the time. It didn't have to be an out, but just a strike. They were so loud. To get through there and have a chance to come home for game five with Jaret Wright on the mound…we liked our chances. We really did. So to have it end up like that, especially in that fashion, it was disappointing.
SHANKS: I felt the same way before Game 5 that we just knew we were going to win?
THOMAS: It sure was. It was disappointing for us and for what we wanted to accomplish but to have the fans come out like they did in game five, and then to have that atmosphere, and to let them down…that made it hurt even more.
SHANKS: How hard was it to hit 8th in the lineup?
THOMAS: There are no complaints, but it was tough. It was hard because initially I got up there and I saw a lot of fastballs. That's always good. But then they started to adjust to me and threw a lot of offspeed stuff. So I kind of had to change from being real aggressive to kind of waiting it out and being patient. Then it got to the point where I was missing some balls that I shouldn't have missed. I had lost some of my aggressiveness. It was tough hitting eighth because you never knew if they were going to pitch to you. You never knew what you were going to get. The thing I had to start to learn was to take my walks because in the beginning when I was up in situations where there was like two outs and runners on scoring position and the pitcher was behind me, I knew I wasn't going to get anything to hit, but I also knew I just didn't want to walk and have the pitcher come up behind me. So I swung at a lot of stuff that I don't think I normally would have just to try to force the issue and make something happen. But it was tough. Then you get on base and you really don't have an opportunity to steal because if there are two outs you can't run into an out at second and have the pitcher lead off the next inning. If there are less than two outs, nine times out of ten, the pitcher is going to be bunting to move you over. So that was tough. Batting with the pitcher behind you gives you a whole new appreciation for it because it was a tough place to hit.
SHANKS: You made the adjustment pretty well didn't you?
THOMAS: I felt like I made the adjustment pretty well at first, and then I just kind of slumped there toward the end. I don't attribute that to anything but me just not having my stuff together. I don't really know what happened. I think it was more me than anything else. They had adjusted a long time ago and started throwing me whatever, and I thought I did pretty well with that.
SHANKS: What was the toughest part about being a big leaguer?
THOMAS: I don't know.
SHANKS: The rookie hazing?
THOMAS: No. (Laughing)
SHANKS: Did you get there in time to get dressed up with LaRoche and Green?
THOMAS: Oh yea. I had to go through that with those guys.
There's really nothing to complain about. I enjoyed all of it to be honest with you.
SHANKS: You hear people say, "it's just the same game." Is that the approach you have to take?
THOMAS: Oh for sure. Especially when I first got up there I definitely had to keep that in mind. Matt Whiteside left me a message saying, "Don't change anything. Same game. Keep playing the way you've been playing. The parks are a little bigger. There are more fans." So you certainly have to keep that in mind.
SHANKS: What was the best part of this year?
THOMAS: I think the way we turned it around. Running to that pile when we clinched it…that feeling…because it wasn't easy. It wasn't handed to us. At the end, we ended up being up by ten games, but obviously the team had been through a whole lot to get to that point. It wasn't a cakewalk by any means. To be apart of number thirteen when hardly anybody thought it was possible after the losses the team had as far as star players was great.
SHANKS: Was there some pride that there was an injection of new blood?
THOMAS: I think that might have been different for the fans just seeing different guys out there seeing us win the title in a different manner. As far as the young kids, I think everybody had a good time.
SHANKS: Now that you've had several weeks off, what has it been like to reflect on the year?
THOMAS: I've have so much to do and to work on and things to improve on that I'm just looking forward to spring training and trying to make the team and trying to get better. I really haven't thought too much about what happened this year.
SHANKS: What do you need to improve on?
THOMAS: Everything. Really. There's not one thing you could name where I could feel I was fine in that area. I'm not just saying that. I'm running and I'm working hard. Certainly being consistent at the plate is important. It was disappointing to me the way I ended up. I had gotten to where I was with not changing stuff and getting more consistent with my swing and all that. Somehow I kind of lost that the last month. I couldn't find it. I did at times, but as far as consistency I know I've got to do better.
SHANKS: You know the question is going to be asked, "Can Charles do it again?"
THOMAS: I know. There are a ton of people that won't think so and will feel like it was a fluke and would much rather have someone else. I know I'm not a 30 home run guy, but it's certainly something I'd like to work towards. But I'm sure there's that talk.
SHANKS: But that's natural as a player enters his second year to hear those questions, right?
THOMAS: Yea. To me, at this point, it's a lot more important than last year. So I have an awful lot of motivation to improve and to show that I belong there.
SHANKS: What kind of production do you think you can put up over the course of a full season?
THOMAS: Hitting eighth makes a big difference in that. I truly feel that I am capable of hitting .300. Home runs and all that I don't know. That's not really my swing. I think I'm strong enough (to hit home runs), but mine is more of a line drive, ground ball swing.
SHANKS: But just taking your numbers and multiplying them a little bit and if you weren't hitting 8th you could maybe hit 20-25 homers?
THOMAS: Yea I think it's certainly possible. Platooning and hitting eighth certainly makes a big difference. Trust me I'm not complaining. If I hit 8th every game next year I'll be the happiest guy alive.
SHANKS: I would assume that not hitting 8th would allow you to do is to show off your speed.
THOMAS: Yea. Right. You're able to be a lot more aggressive.
SHANKS: Where are you playing winter ball?
THOMAS: Dominican Republic.
SHANKS: Are you going to work on anything in particular?
THOMAS: Everything. I don't know if I ever just try to pinpoint one thing. There's so much to work on. I think it will be big for me because I've generally been a slow starter. It's taken me a while to get going in spring training. So hopefully I'll be able to get some at bats and try to get a good feel going into spring training.
Bill Shanks can be reached at email@example.com
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