Douglas High grad Matt Thomas went to bed last Tuesday night settled on the idea he would be continuing his baseball career at Cal State Bakersfield next season.
“They just won the Western Athletic Conference title, they were offering a full ride, it seemed like a good fit baseball-wise,” Thomas said.
But his heart wasn’t in it.
He’d just returned from a visit to the UNLV campus the day prior, and preferred the idea of becoming a
Rebel. Problem was, there wasn’t a scholarship offer.
As they say, what a difference a day makes. Or, in the case, a night.
Thomas woke up Wednesday morning with two voice mails waiting on his phone. The first was from his coach at Feather River College, saying he’d been talking to UNLV associate head coach Stan Stolte, and thought a scholarship offer might be forthcoming.
The second was a message from Stolte himself, saying he wanted to talk about financing.
“That pretty much sealed it,” Thomas said. “They had a backup catcher who left, and they ended up giving me his scholarship.”
The sudden departure proved beneficial for two former Tigers, as it turned out. UNLV asked both Feather River and Thomas about Kameron Van Winkle, a Douglas grad who’d played catcher for Feather River last season after transferring in from Siskiyous.
“They need to fill a catcher spot, so Kameron is going to go down to UNLV, be my roommate and try to walk on to the team,” Thomas said. “It’ll be fun. I’m very excited about the whole thing.”
Thomas was a strong pitcher in high school, earning all-league honors as a pitcher for the Tigers. But he relied almost entirely on his fastball and curveball – throwing only a handful of change-ups his entire senior season.
“That’s something (Feather River) Coach (Terry) Baumgartner is really great with, is really developing your pitches,” Thomas said. “I worked and worked on my change-up, so much that it really became my best pitch.
“I’d go sometimes two innings without throwing a fastball.”
He also learned to throw a slider during this past winter break, and that became an effective pitch this past season when he was ahead in the count.
He posted an 8-1 record for Feather River, which advanced to the California State Championships, while carrying a 1.60 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 12 walks in 67 innings pitched.
Thomas earned first-team All-Northern California and first-team All-Golden Valley Conference honors for his play during the year. He also earned a first-team All-State Academic selection after posting a 3.80 GPA.
“I was really able to refine my pitches during my time at Feather River, and I was fortunate to play in front of a really good defense,” Thomas said. “That pretty much took care of things.”
Thomas will be aiming to win UNLV’s No. 4 starting spot.
“There aren’t any guarantees, so I’m going to have to work hard and see what happens,” he said.
In Stolte, also the Rebels’ pitching coach, Thomas will play for a coach that has sent 15 players to the major leagues, developed 17 All-Americans and four conference pitchers of the year.
Thomas’ fastball rides between 85-88 mph. He’s excelled at the college level primarily with his offspeed pitches.
“I’m hoping at UNLV, I’ll learn how to use more of my body in my delivery and hopefully bump that velocity up,” he said. “They are good coaches. I’m looking forward to playing for them.”
Van Winkle posted a .972 fielding percentage behind the plate in a backup role for Feather River last year. He batted .285 as a freshman for Siskiyous, earning second-team All-Golden Valley Conference honors.