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'The Barry Bonds of DIII' goes DI
Jack Thomson transformed his body, his game and a program. Now, he takes his game to the Bluff.
PORTLAND — No college baseball coach enjoys replacing a star.
Lewis & Clark coach Matt Kosderka is no different. Since 2019, Kosderka has been able to pencil Jack Thomson’s name into the heart of the order, something that left him feeling a bit like Dusty Baker in San Francisco back in the early 2000s.
“People call him the Barry Bonds of Division III. Nobody pitches to him,” Kosderka said of Thomson, who was named the Division III national player of the year last month after batting .382 with 23 home runs while posting an absurd .576 on-base percentage. “He has 50 walks and more intentional walks than most people have regular ones.
“Yeah, it’s going to be hard not to pencil his name into the heart of the lineup.”
He’s happy about it, though. Seriously.
See, after 152 games with Lewis & Clark, a tenure that began after few offers followed a high school career in California, Thomson is off to Division I. He signed with the University of Portland this spring and will take his 48 career home runs and a .367 average over to The Bluff for a sixth year of college baseball. It’s a gift, Thomson said, that he’s afforded thanks to the extra eligibility provided by the COVID-19 seasons. It’s also thanks to the transformation Thomson underwent during lockdown.
Thomson was hitting just .260 when things shut down 16 games into the 2020 season. During the time away, Thomson started working more with a hitting coach and dedicated himself to the weight room.
“COVID ended up being the biggest blessing for him,” Kosderka said. “He went to town on the weights, came in here at 180 as a freshman and left 230. Once his body got where it needed to be, he had the talent to play at any level.”
It’s a transformation that’s changed the outlook for a program. Lewis & Clark is not a baseball juggernaut. No Pioneer coach has finished his time with the program with a winning record since Mickey Hergert hung it up in 1980. Kosderka took over from Tom Flynn (31-137 in seven season) in 2018 and went 9-30 in his first season.
Then he started to get his guys in.
“We wanted to recruit players who would really accept nothing less than their absolute best,” he said. “And Jack really bought into that.”
Said Thomson: “He sold me on a vision and that we were going to turn the program around and that I could be a centerpiece. It was enticing to be a part of that change and that culture.”
The Pioneers won 10 games in 2019 and 14 total in the shortened 2020 and 2021 seasons.
And then? Well, video game numbers.
The Pioneers went 20-17 in 2022 as Thomson batted .450 with a 1.600 OPS.
“I actually think that was his better year,” Kosderka said. “He didn’t hit as many home runs as this year, but he was as locked in as anyone I’ve ever seen before. He’d get four pitches to hit a game and hit everyone of them.”
Thomson became the first All-American for the program since 1992, then returned for a fifth season to lead the Pioneers to their most wins (31) and first NCAA postseason berth in team history.
And that’s led him to his next challenge, when he’ll join the Pilots this fall for his first and last year as a Division I ball player.
“It’s going to be really odd at first to put on a different uniform but I’m super excited about it,” Thomson said. “Obviously I have goals of stepping in and being an impact player, but I’m really just grateful for the opportunity.”
He’ll spend this summer working maintenance at the Oswego Lake Country Club, lifting weights and preparing to fully take advantage of this new opportunity. And while Kosderka may have a hole in his lineup, the blow is cushioned by the depth the Pioneers built around Thomson. With players like Brennen Davis (.345 avg., 11 HRs) and Luke Bass (.959 OPS, 11 HRs) returning, Kosderka says there’s a new standard.
“It used to be you just hoped some guys would get on base and that Jack would hit a home run,” he said. “This year there weren’t really any holes one through nine and that’s been a big part of our success.”
— Tyson Alger, The I-5 Corridor
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