DUNEDIN, FLA. - Now that he has won the left fielder’s job, Eric Thames can start focusing on the important things.
Such as growing out his beard.
“I want to get it down to here and have it bushy,” Thames said, holding his hands about six inches below his jaw and about eight inches apart.
Think ZZ Top and you get the idea.
Thames was laughing as he spoke. The combination of the topic and his demeanor spoke volumes about his comfort level this season, his second with the Blue Jays.
As for his winning the mini-battle in left over Travis Snider, it can only be interpreted as a giant pat on the back by the organization for a job well done.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that the hard work paid off,” Thames said. “I’m happy that the job was given to me and I can move forward. The pressure has been relieved a little bit and now I can focus on the regular season and help this team win.”
Even though he was told at the start of spring training that he had a leg up over Snider as the incumbent, Thames felt the pressure to perform.
“It was the first time in my life that I’ve felt a competition like this,” he said. “It got such widespread attention. In the minor leagues and that stuff, the media doesn’t care and in college and high school, nobody cares. This was the first time I’ve had to deal with that. I think we both did a great job with it.”
Even though he was the incumbent he didn’t come to camp thinking the job was his.
“I knew it wasn’t guaranteed,” he said of left field. “I knew if I came out and hit .100 and had terrible at-bats it wouldn’t be my job. I knew I had to hit the ground running and make adjustments quick and what happened, happened.”
Other than winning the job in left, has he accomplished other goals?
“I’ve seen a lot of lefties such as CC (Sabathia) the other night and (David) Price,” he said. “I feel like I’m seeing a lot of lefties better (recognizing spin), I’m able to recognize a curve and slider earlier than I did last year.”
Defence was the weakest part of Thames game but he believes he’s improve there as well.
“In the outfield I’m getting my reps in and I’m getting better jumps than I did last year and that was my biggest goal this spring,” he said. “With the bat it was a matter of getting comfortable and getting my timing back and I feel like that’s pretty on.”
Last season, Thames arrived with the Jays on May 17 and lasted 13 games before returning to triple-A Las Vegas. He was recalled on June 24 and remained with the team for the rest of the season.
Overall he hit .265 (95-for-362) in 95 games where he stroked 24 doubles with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs.
Thames believes he offers so much more.
“Last year I learned a lot about who I am as a person and a player and this year I have a comfort level that I didn’t have last year,” he said. “Last year I tried to force at-bats and tried to do too much and this year I feel more relaxed. I’m trying to let the pitcher come to me and not try to hit everything he throws up there.”
Looking back, Thames can’t see how a player can be ready for what he will experience in the big leagues until he arrives.
“It’s a thing where you can’t really develop and be ready until you’re here, facing the best,” he said. “You can’t prepare for how you get worked mentally and physically by these guys. The guys up here have everything, the movement, the location, the arm power, the smarts, everything.”
When listing what he wants to improve on in 2012, Thames lists fearlessness and not being afraid to fail at the top.
“There are some special players that can jump right in and do that (not be fearless) but I’m not one of those guys,” Thames said. “It took me a while to learn about it but this year I feel I’m ready.”
In short he said the fans haven’t seen the best of Eric Thames.
“There’s a lot more in the tank, a lot more in the tank” he said.
There’s no reason not to believe him.