Sunday, September 29, 2013

Interview Part 1: Gary Thurman, Started Something

Nationals roving outfield and base-running coordinator Gary Thurman at Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg, Pa., in August 2013. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Started Something | Part 2: Something Positive

HARRISBURG, PA - A Royals first-round draft pick, Gary Thurman's career started slowly. It started slow enough, he recalled recently, that he even thought about going home.

"I was ready to hang it up and go back to college to play football," Thurman recalled to The Greatest 21 Days of that second pro season where he hit .228 and struck out 127 times, "because I knew I could be successful at football."

What kept him in the game, though, he recalled, was advice from his mother.

"My mother always taught me, 'hey, when you start something, you've got to finish it,'" Thurman said.

"The Royals had confidence enough in me to draft me, if they've got enough confidence in me to stay with me, then I'm going to stick with it," Thurman recalled. "And I'm glad I did. Thirty-one years later, I'm still here."

Thurman was still there this past season, serving 2013 as the Nationals' minor league outfield and base-running coordinator.
A Harrisburg Senator on the base paths at third. Gary Thurman was in Harrisburg in August to work with Senator base runners and outfielders. (G21D Photo)
Thurman spoke to The Greatest 21 Days before an August game in Harrisburg, Pa., at Metro Bank Park. Thurman was in town, visiting the Nationals' AA affiliate the Harrisburg Senators.

In the interview, Thurman spoke of growing up in Indianapolis more a fan of football than baseball. He then spoke of his ultimate calculation to choose baseball, and then his early struggles in the minors.

Thurman went on to play in nine major league seasons, a major league career, Thurman recalled, that started with a choice: Should he make his major league debut, or should he see his daughter's birth.

Thurman grew up in Indianapolis, raised by his mother in a single-parent household. He also grew up a football player, not a baseball player.
Harrisburg Senators in the dugout in August 2013. Gary Thurman was in town to work with Senator base runners and outfielders. (G21D Photo)
It wasn't until his sophomore year that he really started to play baseball. He actually started playing because one of his buddies was playing, Thurman recalled.

Though he started late, he got good fast. He got to go to a Royals tryout camp and he played well. In his junior year, he got to go to a national sports festival. Soon, he had the eye of scouts.

"It all happened pretty quick, actually, for me," Thurman said. "My passion was football, it wasn't baseball."

Come draft time in 1983, Thurman was in another tournament. He recalled not even knowing he'd been drafted until somebody told him.

And he wasn't just drafted, he went first round, 21st overall, to the Royals. He was so much a football guy, he recalled, that he didn't really understand in the moment that he wasn't going directly to the majors.
Gary Thurman, far right standing, in the Senators' Metro Bank Park dugout in August 2013. (G21D Photo)
As to why he chose baseball, a sport he hardly even liked at that point, over the sport that was the one he really loved, football, Thurman said it was a calculation.

A career in baseball, he reasoned, would be longer than one in football healthwise. Then there was also the calculation for his family, his mother.

"Just the wear and tear on your body wasn't as much," Thurman said. "But I think the biggest thing was I knew I could help my family with the money that I received as a bonus."

He then made himself a career. So, out of Indianapolis' North Central High School, Thurman turned pro.

Thurman played that first season in the rookie Gulf Coast League, hitting .259 over 59 games, stealing 31 bases. His second season is where he really ran into trouble. At single-A Charleston, his average dropped and his strikeouts went up. He still stole 44 bases.

He recalled trying to make the transition from high school pitching and that speed, to the speed of professional pitchers in the minors.

"It took me a couple years to get used to that, to try to catch up with that speed," Thurman said. "After a couple years, I started to get used to that speed, slowing the game down a little bit."

From Charleston, though, he took off. His average shot up in 1985 at single-A Fort Myers to .302. His stolen bases improved along with it, stealing a total of 70 bases that year.

Go to Part 2, Gary Thurman, Something Positive

Part 1: Started Something | Part 2: Something Positive

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