Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 3, 2012

Thon encouraged to play baseball despite beaning suffered by father

BLUEFIELD — Dickie Joe Thon has major league genes.            His father played through a brutal beaning to survive 15 years in the big leagues. His son is eager to have the same longevity on the diamond.

“It is every kid’s dream to play professional baseball,” Thon said. “It is just fun to have a job playing the game. It is just great.”

Thon is currently the starting shortstop for the Bluefield Blue Jays, having been drafted in the fifth round by Toronto in 2010. He spent last season in the Gulf Coast League in Florida, and was pleased to wind up in Bluefield and the Appalachian League this summer.

“It is great weather, great stuff, great fans, it’s a nice place, it is a nice relaxing place,” Thon said. “(There is) a great view, a great field, it is just a good place.”

Thon’s father, also known as Dickie Thon, played portions of 15 seasons with six teams, earning an All-Star nod and finishing seventh in MVP voting while with the Houston Astros in 1983. He had a career batting average of .264.

“I have only got a couple of videos, I never got to see him play,” said Thon, who will turn 21 on Nov. 16. “He retired in ‘94 and I was born in ‘91 so I never really got a chance to see him.”

Thon does know that his father was hit in the face by a Mike Torrez fastball in April of 1984, breaking the orbital bone above his left eye. Thon, who was with the Astros, missed the remainder of that season, but wound up playing through ‘94 despite having little or no vision out of that eye.

“He can’t really see with that eye, but he found a way of doing it,” Thon said. “He can’t really see too much out of that eye.”

This was no ordinary beaning. While not quite as devastating as the injury suffered years earlier by Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro, it was still a horrific scene to be witnessed on a baseball diamond.

Yet, Thon — whose father earned the Tony Conigliaro Award in 1991 in recognition of his recovery from the injury — was never discouraged from playing the game he loved.

“If anything he told me to learn from it,” Thon said. “He told me it was a mistake and he was being way too aggressive trying to get to get to the ball and he learned from that.

“He said he adjusted after that and it didn’t take anything away from his game, but he just learned from it.”

Thon, a native of Houston who grew up in Puerto Rico, could have gone to powerhouse Rice to play baseball, but decided to follow his dreams after being the 156th selection of the 2010 draft.

“In the draft you never know what is going to happen,” Thon said. “There were a bunch of teams interested in me, but you never know what is going to happen, but it was good the Blue Jays drafted me. It was a good opportunity.”

He spent last summer in the Gulf Coast League in Florida, batting .223 with 23 runs scored, 15 runs batted in, six stolen bases and a .369 on-base percentage in 45 games, while demonstrating the skills at shortstop that convinced the Blue Jays to ink him to a $1.5 million signing bonus.

“They see me pretty much all around, I love to win, and I hate to lose,” Thon said. “Right now we have got to get it going. They saw me as a team player and a team leader and hopefully get this team to a good place.”

While Thon came along too late to see his father play, he was able to learn the game through observing him as a coach and scout.

“He was helping out in a lot of places, but he would take me everywhere,”  said Thon, who is a fan of Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter, having followed in his father’s footsteps at the same position. “I would learn everything he would talk about, mostly about being a professional and competing every day and things you should do and things you shouldn’t do and just try to be a better player.”

Thon isn’t the only son of a big leaguer in Bluefield. Outfielder Dwight Smith, Jr. is the son of the former major leaguer of the same name who played eight years with four teams, while pitcher Brandon Dorsett’s father, Brian, who played portions of eight years with six teams.

In addition, pitcher Roberto Osuna is the nephew of former major league hurler Antonio Osuna and hurler Tucker Jensen is the grandson of 1958 American League MVP Jackie Jensen.

“We have a couple of guys of that breed,” Thon said. “Smitty is one of them. My dad talked to him the other day. It is fun to see former players see each other again and they can talk about old times.”

Thon is hoping the Blue Jays will have good times this summer. They’ve started out at 6-8 with a 3.43 ERA, which is third best in the Appalachian League, but the Blue Jays are ninth at the plate, batting .219 as a team.

Part of the reason for the slow start could simply be the step up in competition.

“Just step by step, hopefully get everything corrected and get everything consistent and help the team win pretty much,” Thon said. “Every league, step by step, it gets better and better, it’s not easy going up.

“We have a bunch of guys that are young, but everybody is talented that plays here.”

Thon is batting just .214 with four RBIs, two doubles, one home run and a triple, but he expects the hitting — his and his teammates — to come along soon.

“We’ll come around, it is just a bad game plan and having too much anxiety,” said the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Thon. “We will get our stuff together, we are a good team. We will have to figure it out and we will figure it out soon.”

It isn’t for lack of work. There is more to being a baseball player than just playing a three-hour game in 68 of 71 days from the time they arrive in June to the end of August.

“Most people think it is just roses, but it is hard work,” Thon said. “If anybody could see us play, it is a lot of hard work. Ever since spring training, we have been there since February and just working hard and trying to get our basics done and our mechanics done and trying to get everything in order.”

Once the Blue Jays arrived, they were expected to display their work with their performance on the field.

“The main point here is producing,” Thon said. “Getting the team in good position to win and getting the opportunity of winning every day and getting stuff done.”

All that is done with one goal in mind.

“Hopefully get to the major leagues as soon as possible,” Thon said. “Stay in it day by day and become a better player.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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