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College Baseball: Catawba’s Thomas matches his sisters’ success

On July 28, 1986, Danny Thomas was waiting for his wife, LuAnn, to deliver their third child.
He already had two girls.
“To be honest with you, I thought I was going to have the Mandrell Sisters,” he laughed.
A day later, he got to hold his son.
Now, fast forward almost 22 years. During that span, those two girls, Kelly and Leslie, went on to become college athletes.
Pressure on the baby of the family? You betcha. But David Thomas has matched his sisters’ success and then some. When Catawba’s baseball team begins Division II South Region play on Thursday, the sisters finally have to focus on little brother.
Thomas enters his last postseason holding school records in hits (335), runs (274) and stolen bases (90). His career average is .383. He has bashed 66 doubles and 46 homers.
Pretty good for the little kid who took a backseat as his sisters starred in high school at Ledford.
“They put a lot of pressure on me because they both got scholarships to play sports in college,” David said. “I felt the challenge to do the same.”

Meeting any and all challenges is something Thomas obviously picked up from his father, a star athlete at North Davidson before graduating in 1972.
Always a fun-loving kid, Danny’s biggest challenge may have come off the field. One day, he ordered a bagful of food at a local eatery. He was cajoled into swallowing every single bite before he left the restaurant.
“Oh yeah, I remember,” Danny chuckled. “I was told, ‘If you eat all 10 of those cheeseburgers, not only will I pay for them, but I’ll give you $20.’
I ate all of ’em.”
That competitiveness carried over to the playing field. He was the star quarterback in football, the star guard in basketball and the star third-baseman in baseball. He always succeeded.
He played baseball in college and eventually became the head coach at East Davidson, where he took two teams to the state title series.
“Unfortunately, we were 0-4,” he said with a shrug.
He had no baseball players at home to coach ó until David.
The younger Thomas grew up watching Kelly play basketball at High Point University and Leslie become a college softball and basketball standout.
“The girls would be playing whatever sport and Dave would be sitting over there crying,” Danny remembers. “I’d say, ‘Boy, what’s wrong with you?’ And he’d say, ‘I want to play.’ ”
David was nine when his dad took him into the backyard to make him the best baseball player he could be.
The first thing Dad did?
“I taught him how to switch-hit,” Danny said.
“It was something he kept working on with me,” David said. “I liked it. He told me it would help me out and he was right.”
There have been two swings this season that had Dad nodding his approval.
Batting right-handed, he sent a drive so far over the trees in left field that it might still be going.
Last week, batting left-handed, he lofted a Ruthian clout over the right-field wall.
And over the football bleachers.
Pro scouts in attendance told his Dad they estimated the drive at 470 feet.
“I’ve been trying for four years to put one out there,” David chuckled. “I knew I hit it good … I didn’t know I hit it that good.”

Fans may remember the homers but Catawba wanted him for his all-around abilities. He can be just as impressive laying down a bunt or tracking down a long fly.
Catawba coach Jim Gantt knew Thomas could start as a freshman and recruited the Ledford star hard.
“They were really the only team interested,” David said, “but I was interested in them.”
The rest is history and Danny Thomas is loving every single minute of it. In the four years his son has played at Newman Park, Catawba has won 154 games, an average of 38 victories per season.
“You take great pleasure in seeing your kids compete and do it the right way ó working hard, staying late and working on your weaknesses,” Danny said. “We’ve been blessed.”
David has the advantage of learning from Gantt on the field and from a coach in the stands ó Danny.
“I get coached every day from him,” David said, praising his dad. “I get an e-mail or a phone call. He’s coached me my whole life so he knows more about me than anybody. He’s my best friend.”

Whether David is bashing homers in front of his 79-year-old grandfather, Lee, or in front of his sisters, the gigantic expectations of the Thomas family continues.
“They’re all still very competitive,” Danny laughs. They want you to get a hit every time up and make every play no matter what. The real pressure comes from the family side.”
David will surely get a shot at professional baseball in June, leaving his parents, now going on their 34th year of marriage, wondering what to do with their time.
“It’s been a long ride,” Danny sighed. “I guess me and LuAnn are going to be looking around for the best game each night and going somewhere.”
Their kids have already taken them places. And although it has been a long ride, it’s probably far from over, thanks to the baby of the family.

NOTES: Catawba plays in Tampa against Florida Tech at 7 p.m. on Thursday. … WSAT-1280 AM will carry the game. Athletic director Dennis Davidson and sports information director Jimmy Lewis will be the on-air personalities.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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