Bearden product having a sizzling season with Nats

By Steve Williams

In a 30-game stretch up to the Fourth of July, Lane Thomas was hotter than a firecracker on the Major League Baseball scene.

The Knoxville native and Bearden High graduate (Class of 2014), who is the leadoff batter for the Washington Nationals, had gone 37 for 105 at the plate (a .352 clip) and totaled 21 runs, six homers, 18 RBI and three stolen bases.

With those numbers, the 6-foot, 191-pound rightfielder, who bats right and throws right, had raised his season totals to .301 (fifth highest average in the NL), 14 homers, 45 RBI and 57 runs.

Thomas put himself in contention to make the National League All-Star team but wasn’t included when the announcement came on July 2. It was reported in USA Today that “Some big names got left off the 2023 All-Star Game roster. Lane Thomas definitely got snubbed but the outfield in the NL is stacked.”

Some fans of Thomas have been hoping he might be added as a replacement player, including Jack Tate, who coached Lane at Bearden.

The MLB All-Star game is scheduled to be played Tuesday night in Seattle.

“I have loved following Lane’s pro career (2014-present),” said Tate, who was Thomas’ head coach when he was a freshman and sophomore at Bearden (2011-12). “I attended over 50 of his games in the Minor Leagues and have been fortunate to attend 20 of his games in the Major Leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals and Nationals.

“He has always had a terrific work ethic and plays the game like a true professional.”

Tate, who now teaches and is the Sports Information Director at Farragut High, is planning to go to Cincinnati Aug. 4-6 for a three-game series between the Nationals and Reds.

“I’ll also get to see Farragut’s Nick Senzel play in that series for the Reds,” said Jack. “Lane and Nick have been friends since their high school days when they were on opposing teams.”

Tate first met Thomas when he was in the eighth grade at West Valley Middle School. He became the head coach at Bearden that next year (2010).

“In Lane’s sophomore season, we defeated Farragut in the region championship game and won four games at the TSSAA state tournament in Murfreesboro,” recalled Tate. “Arlington beat us in the Class AAA state finals.”

Tate pointed out that Thomas was a special player right from the start of his prep career.

“Lane was a varsity starter in Game 1 of his freshman year and for all four years of his Bearden career,” said Jack. “As a sophomore, Lane hit in the leadoff spot in all 46 games, batting .404 and hitting 10 homeruns.  He played centerfield except for the games in which he pitched.

“I stayed on as an assistant coach for Lane’s junior and senior seasons as well.”

Fresh out of high school, Thomas was drafted in the fifth round by the Toronto Blue Jays in June of 2014. He was called up to the majors for the first time by St. Louis in 2019. He played only a few games for the Cardinals in 2019, 2020 and 2021 before being traded to Washington during the 2021 season.

Thomas, who turns 28 in August, played 145 games last year for the Nationals.

He has been an excellent table-setter in his leadoff role for Washington this year. In the first 84 games, he was held hitless only 16 times and only twice went without a hit in back to back games.

Lane got two more hits last Wednesday (July 5) to lift his average to .304. The Nationals were scheduled to play Texas three games over the weekend before the All-Star break.

Lane’s first hot streak came in the second half of May when he hit safely in 15 straight games. He had another 10-game streak in June and starting on June 13 he went 20 for 22 at the plate to raise his batting average 22 points (from .279 to .301).

When Tate goes on the road to see Thomas play, he usually gets a chance to talk with him, too.

“I normally get to speak to him down at field level for a few minutes before the game,” he said.

They share a lot of fond memories, but also look forward to many big days ahead.