Tom Thornton was a spirited leader and big-game pitcher during his four seasons with the Notre Dame baseball program (photo by Joe Raymond).

Tall Tom Waxes Nostalgic From The Cape

Aug. 2, 2004

What do the words magnanimous, chillaxing, latamis-dorsi and demarcate have in common? They comprise a small fraction of a 3,200-word Summer Baseball Diary entry submitted from the inimitable Tom Thornton. The rising junior pitcher has crafted a literary masterpiece that will give the reader a true flavor of his summer spent playing in the Cape Cod League (the nation’s premier wood-bat summer college league).

The 6-foot-6 lefthander seems to be doing plenty of lifting and eating, as delineated in the daily schedule that he has included (he also confesses to a deep love for peanut butter and mixes in non-food references to Baby Ruths and Skittles). The diary entry also details his approach to his mother’s chores, tells of the wild antics of his colorful teammates and includes an update on Tom’s sharp-hitting Notre Dame teammate Craig Cooper.

Thornton is hoping to advance with his Wareham Gatemen to the CCL playoffs, which feature two teams from each division. With one week left in the regular season, Wareham currently is second in the western division (19-18), followed closely by the Hyannis Mets (18-19) and Cotuit Kettleers (17-19) while the Falmouth Commodore hold down first place (21-15). Tall Tom has compiled a 3-5 record and 4.15 ERA in eight starts, with a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (33/11) and a .279 opponent batting average (53 hits, 3 HR), plus 5 hit batters and single wild pitch in 47.2 innings pitched.

Two Summer Diaries still are on the docket and it appears that Sean Gaston and Steve Andres have drawn the short straws – relegated to the dubious distinction of having to follow Thornton’s treatise due to the late conclusion of their respective summer leagues.

Don’t forget that links to all of the 2002-04 Summer Baseball Diaries can be found at:

Four days ago, we threw out some “pre-diary” hype and Tom Thornton did not disappoint … enjoy!:

Notre Dame 2004 Summer Baseball Diaries – Entry #6 (Tom Thornton; Wareham Gatemen)

Come with me for a moment. Allow me to take you around Cape Cod and show you a little bit about what life is like playing baseball every day in the Cape Cod Baseball League. But first, put a smile on your face and saddle up because – despite the fact that this is not the summer spent telling tales on the pool deck – it is a summer spent with baseball … even better! A life for those who love to put the uniform on every day and play through the burning daylight, hit the lights and continue until the midnight oil has dried and gone.

Welcome to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the garden spot of the world! You cannot believe those fools in Texas, Indiana, and Ohio because the best states always come in small packages. If one cannot drive from one end to the other in three hours then break that “bad Larry” into two, that’s what I’ve always said. Anything else people tell you just isn’t the truth.

The cape is a land of beautiful beaches and beautiful women. Wareham, the town I play in, is the gateway to the cape – and thus our team name, the Wareham Gatemen. The Cape Cod League consists of 10 teams divided up into two divisions of five, an eastern and a western division. Wareham, being on the eastern side of the cape bridges is logically in the east division along with Hyannis, Cotuit, Bourne, and Falmouth.

The western division is Brewster, Chatham, Harwich, Yarmouth-Dennis, and Orleans. Travel is done via school bus. I swear those things were made for dwarves. Never in a month of Sundays have I seen seats so small. For me, it is like trying to cram into a bread box and those who know me know I am a tad larger than a bread box.

When traveling to the western side, or the lower cape, pack a book, some music and some peanut butter sandwiches because the traffic is usually slow. Bus rides always make me hungry and, besides, it would be a good idea for us all to start getting in the habit of always being prepared by carrying a jar of peanut butter around (non-hydrogenated, if possible). Hunger can sneak up on you and one never performs their best when famished. So, Tom T.’s tip of the day: Do yourself a favor and the next time you leave the house, for work or an athletic endeavor, bring that friendly jar of peanut butter with you and maybe some wheat bread, if you think of it – fills you up, never lets you down.

When one is “chillaxing” on the cape, life is good, no two ways about that, but for me, life is great. I have the luxury of being one of the few local dudes down here and living at home has been a welcome change from life on the road. There are times when, like us all, I could do without the chores. Cutting the grass, putting out the trash and emptying the dishwasher – mom, you’re killing me here.

How can one say no to mom, right? Over the years, I have accrued enough knowledge about the way things work under mom’s roof to realize that one just does not cross her up. It’s mom’s way or the highway, literally. “There’s a Days Inn down the street, boy,” mom always says. “Feel free to pack your things and move there if you’re not willing to pull your weight around this house. Now stop shirking your duties and get some work done!” Ah yes, my complaining is quickly curtailed as mom’s immortal platitudes are slung at me with a fiery tongue. Hey, no worries. I’ll do chores until the cows come home just as long as I can play ball at night.

One of the advantages of living at home is having the opportunity to work at the Town Park as a baseball supervisor. I work the same job I worked in high school and work with many of the same people. The Middleborough Park Department saved me this summer. Allowing me the flexible hours I needed to play games everyday and get lifts in before reporting to the field was an incredibly magnanimous gesture on their part. Typically, I will work from 8:30 to noon, teaching three 45-minute sessions of baseball a day.

The Park Department is a great institution. The youth matriculate to the baseball field to embrace the values of the game: teamwork, dedication and the development of the work ethic – what could be better? Clearly, baseball solves all problems in life. My job is to refine their technique and instill those values, which is a beast of a task.

There are obstacles, however, that never fail to crop up in this process. The other day, one of the more misguided youths rolled up in a Boston College Eagles hat. Well, this was totally unacceptable. And when I informed the youth of his erroneous choice of headgear, the young whippersnapper was in denial about the dangers of wearing BC and Yankee apparel an he added a rather curt response to boot. The matter was easily resolved with the traditional and effective remedy of laps and push-ups, plus no batting practice for him that day. The BC hat has not been seen since – problem solved!

Often, working with the kids is comparable to wrestling last year’s kodiak brown bear (for those who read last summer’s diary), except this is an affluent kodiak brown bear who can afford to go south for the summer, yet complains about the heat and forgets to bring his glove to the field everyday! “C’mon big guy, get it together, this is week five,” I have to tell them.

Spending three hours every weekday working with the kids in a teaching capacity – passing out knowledge like fun-size Baby Ruths – has been a lot of fun. The youth derive a joy from baseball that is refreshing and they have a pristine perspective of baseball as a fun game. Baseball too often sneaks into our lives as a defining entity – we must succeed every time or what else is there? It’s a trap easily walked into when one plays over 100 games a year. But the kids never see it quite like that and it is both a grounding and educational experience.

Normally, the Cape schedule will see us play games six days per week but with streaks running as long as 13 games on consecutive days. In order to give the reader a flavor of what the typical day following a start looks like, here is a condensed schedule:

7:30 – Wake up, eat breakfast and get excited because today you get to play baseball!

8:30 – Roll up to work and get pumped because now you get to educate the youth!

9:00 – Begin teaching the first of three sessions, this is awesome – let the learning begin!

10:00 – Post breakfast shake – pounding a chocolate shake, need I say more, that’s pretty awesome too!

12:00 – Pre-lift snack of 1,000 cal give or take – more food, life is good!

12:30 – Lift, a great time to augment your functional strength and loosen up after pitching!

2:00 – Phone call to the beautiful girlfriend – despite the fact she prefers the Indians to the Red Sox, I have to tell her how wonderful she is!

2:15 – Post-lift lunch – gotta love to eat!

2:45 – Leave for field – driving, a great time to collect your thoughts and enjoy some peace and quiet!

3:30 – After arriving at the clubhouse and changing into practice attire, you begin your daily workout – get psyched, what a great day to work and play baseball!

4:30 – After stretching, throwing and running, it is time to head into the trainer’s room for the daily hot/cold contrast. One hot bucket and one cold bucket, alternating at six and four minutes twice, this keeps the elbow fresh to throw 13 out of 14 days – a great way to cool down the workout!

5:00 – Home team batting practice – shagging balls to the “back-in-the-day” buffet of retro tunes is a blast, live large and in charge!

5:45 – Deep tissue massage from Deb, the trainer/masseuse; the latamis-dorsi, rhomboids, and seriates are all in a spastic state and need excess pressure to release. Actually, quite a painful experience but still worthwhile as afterwards one feels as if they could hurl another nine like it ain’t no thing!

6:10 – Post BP shake – Again the food – hey, when worst comes to worst your food’s gotta come first!

6:20 – Chew the fat with the fellas – these guys come from all over the country and each one has a totally different perspective in both a social and cultural sense and that makes talking with them a lot of fun!

6:35 – Watch visitor infield/outfield as a team, see who will put a pea at your knee from the outfield to home and who tosses Skittles, tasting the rainbow with their throws to home. Those are the ones to take extra bases on. One can tell a lot from infield/outfield, who is precise in their work habits and who lollygags it. This is followed by a brief team meeting – plan the work then work the plan.

6:45 – pre-game prayer

6:50 – Grab a thera-band and stretch your lower body for 10 minutes while positions players stretch and complete pre-game running. A terrific time to build elasticity in lower half and loosen muscles exerted in pre-game lift!

7:02 – Anthem

7:05 – First pitch – the culmination point of your entire day’s labor. Nothing beats baseball under the lights on a warm summer night in front of hundreds of people!

9:45 – Game ends, followed by coaches closing remarks, a post-game prayer and field maintenance. Great time for reflection on the game. Abstract three things you did right and two things you learned that can be implemented into tomorrow’s work – always think positive, no one knows enough about the way the world works to be a pessimist!

10:00 – Hang with the fans and talk with my dad, sign some autographs and share some laughs with the Wareham youth! We have the best crowds in the league making postgame chit-chat a good time had by all.

10:15 – Grab some more food and head for the clubhouse – more food, we all saw that coming!

10:45 – Arrive home. Time to decompress and chillax. Watch a little SportsCenter, talk baseball with the savvy girlfriend and meditate a little to quiet the mind and make some pitches (in my head) before bed, then read a little and call it a night.

12:00 – Lights out, cannot burn the candle at both ends. You try to outrun the wild party life and it runs too fast. You keep trying to hold it off and you inevitably pull a hammy as it gets you in the stretch run.

Night games away from home that are farther out on the cape have a tendency to be a little cool. Once one crosses over those cape bridges, the Bourne and the Sagamore, it is as if someone hits the AC switch. The mostly southern team, with 17 guys from Texas and Mississippi, cannot stand it and refer to the lower cape as the icebox. A few people got so tired of their complaining that last Tuesday one of my teammates tried to reach God on his cellphone but had to leave a voicemail, politely imploring Him to turn off the AC for one night at least. He was getting fed up, so he told Him, “God, for crying out loud, could you tone it down for one night?”

Needless to say, we did not hear back from Him and the temperature hovered around 65 all game.

I cannot say enough about the guys I play with. They are a colorful and culturally diverse group. Every day is an experience, one never knows what these guys are going to say. One night there is a country music group sing-along on the bus ride home following a win and the next night I am in a heated discussion with fellow pitcher Jamie Gant from Mississippi State concerning the biggest college rivalry in the country.

Jamie was in the corner popping off about Mississippi State and Ole Miss and Auburn vs. Alabama, then Michigan against Ohio State when finally I couldn’t take it any longer. “Jamie!” I yelled out partly to preface the severity of the point of which I was about to make and partly to override the cacophonous din spewing forth from the numerous conversations. “Jamie, you wouldn’t know a rivalry if the two teams squared off in your front room for a game of jacks! Everybody knows that the real rivalry is between Notre Dame and Boston College. This is bigger than Mississippi State and Ole Miss. This is the supreme match-up, Catholic against Catholic; the Jesuits against the Holy Cross Order – now that’s a real game!” He looked at me as if I was some stark-raving lunatic who was staring deep into his countenance I could tell that he knew I was correct. The inter-catholic rivalries, those are always the biggest, he just needed to be educated a little. [Editor’s note: Sorry, Tom, I was trying to keep up with you up to this point but can’t see rating ND-BC above Auburn-Alabama … stick to the sport you love!]

The joy in this summer is coming to the ballpark every day and suiting up with these guys. Everyone has their own flavor and there have been times when it has been a rollercoaster of a season. But as the stretch run approaches, there has been a growing acclimation among the players within the collective that has landed us on a roll of winning nine of our last 10 and bringing us back in the playoff hunt with sole possession of second place.

We have had some rough luck with players going down to injury. Earlier in the season, we lost a catcher from Rice, Adam Rogers, and our first baseman from Georgia Tech, Whit Robbins, and Kyle Reynolds, a third baseman from Baylor – but fortunately we have had great contributions from junior college players, infielder Mike Bell and pitcher Adam Trent.

Trent is the biggest talker one could ever meet. This guy could talk the hind legs off a mule! A Tennessee-born, lanky, tall drink of water, who came on board a couple of weeks ago and has not ceased talking since. He also is one of the nicest guys one would meet, as well as being a terrific pitcher … but he’ll chew your ear off with words and antics that are downright hilarious. [Can’t resist: Tom, we think we can understand what you’re talking about!]

Before Trent’s first appearance in Harwich, I approached him to talk about pitch sequences to some guys I had seen before. We talked briefly before he uttered, “T, with me toeing the bump tonight you ain’t got nothing to worry about.” He then turned to our bullpen catcher, who was putting on his shin-guards, and declared, “Man, I don’t why you even bothering to put those on tonight. Fool, take those off right now. There’ll be no cheese below your knees with me throwing.”

In the game, Trent got off to a great start and struck out the side in the third. He strode into our dugout, plopped himself down, kicked his heels up on the dugout, sprawled his long arms out across the top of the dugout bench as if about to light up a cigar and yelled out, “Man, did y’all see that? My slider was moving out there.” I could not contain my laughter, along with the rest of the team. This guy kills me and the levity he brings greatly enhances the positive and upbeat aura of the dugout. I know that every day I go to the park, I am going to have a lot of fun with this guy around.

With baseball in the Cape League, there is never a dull moment. Yesterday, in a home game against Hyannis, right in the middle of the third inning, the sprinklers came on. Play was immediately stopped while the coaches ran wildly about trying to find the off switch. Myself, Trent and assorted other pitchers were sent to grab the home plate and mound tarps while the announcement came from the press box explaining the situation to the bewildered crowd.

Turns out that the switch was in a shed off to the side of the field that presently no one had a key for – but someone had been called and would be there in 25 minutes. After tarping the mound and plate area, I looked into the dugout only to find that the rest of the players had seized upon this opportunity to snatch the gumball vat, which is refilled fresh for every game and placed in the corner of the dugout). They had drawn lots in the dirt for teams and were engaging in a raucous and violent gumball firefight, complete with hostages and a no-throwing zone demarcated by wooden bats, batting gloves and a water cooler.

One of our assistant coaches and a couple of other pitchers were outside the dugout playing paddle ball with gumballs and plastic cups! Craziness, that is what Cape Cod is all about right there.

Our coaches from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Alabama and Ohio Wesleyan are great teachers of the game and there is always something to be learned from these sages. At the end of the day, there is another game and another chance to watch some great talent step between the lines and every fifth day you get to toe the bump and compete – what could be better than that, life is good!

At this point, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Craig Cooper, a fellow teammate at Notre Dame and a member of the Brewster Whitecaps; a nice, laid-back, well-spoken fellow in street clothes but a mighty force at the plate.

Craig has been tearing the cover off the ball against us this summer. Coupled with that, his baserunning (for those interested, i.e. our head coach) has reached a level of perfection that words cannot express – so I will not waste your time with superfluous effort. The other day we played a home game against Brewster and Craig ripped a seed into the corner. This ball was absolutely smoked. Several of my teammates remarked that the ball was hit so hard that it appeared to downshift into third gear while passing by the shortstop.

My coaches stared at me blankly with their jaws dropped. “Hey, don’t look at me,” I exclaimed. “Just make sure there’s no one on base next time when he hits it out!” I tried to warn them but there was really nothing anyone could do, his swings have been unconscious all summer. Craig has seized upon this opportunity to become the ultimate hitting machine! Look out next spring, as the opposition can only hope to contain Craig Cooper’s thunderous stroke.

Take care Irish fans and enjoy a great rest of your summer. On behalf of the rest of the Irish baseball team, we look forward to seeing everyone back at The Eck as we open up home games during the final week of March, 2005. Thanks for all your support in making our 2004 season a success. Acting as the 10th man wherever we played was a vital contribution to our 51-12 record – we could not have accomplished so much without you, the fans, playing a decisive role, and we thank you for your effort and support.

Tom Thornton