Marcus Thames is the only former East Central Community College baseball player to experience a 15-year career in Major League Baseball.
Not only did he “experience” a long career, his first at-bat resulted in a home run and he continued the successful journey in a World Series.
In recognition of his success on the diamond, Thames will be inducted into the ECCC Athletic Hall of Fame during the 2013 Homecoming activities scheduled Saturday, October 12 on the Decatur campus.
Thames and former Carthage High School head football coach Pete Lucovich will be enshrined at the Alumni Association Awards Luncheon beginning at 11 a.m. in Mabry Memorial Cafeteria.
Thames, who is continuing his career in professional baseball as a coach in the New York Yankees’ minor league system in Tampa, Fla., said he was “speechless” when informed of his selection for the prestigious award.
“When Dr. (Billy) Stewart called me I was so shocked I could not speak,” said Thames. “I never thought for a second that when I walked on East Central’s campus in January of 1996 that this honor was in the making. I am very appreciative.”
The Louisville native began his major league career by belting a home run off Cy Young winner Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks at Yankee Stadium on June 10, 2002.
Thames hit the dinger off the first pitch he saw from Johnson and became the 80th player in history to accomplish such a feat.
As his coaches and teammates were laughing in amazement, Thames stepped out of the dugout for a curtain call to a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium!
(Ironically, his last at-bat at the old Yankee Stadium was a home run and his first hit at new Yankee Stadium during his second stint with the Yankees in 2010 was a homer!)
Thames spent just one season with the Yankees who traded the outfielder to the Texas Rangers on June 6, 2003.
He began his career with the Rangers as he did with the Yankees, by belting a home run in his first at-bat!
The following two seasons Thames split times between the Detroit Tigers and their AAA affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens.
In 2006, Thames made his opening day roster for new Detroit manager Jim Leyland.
He was regarded as a “key component” to the Tigers’ vast improvement in 2006, which resulted in the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series, won in five games by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Thames set career highs in every offensive category during the championship season. He batted .256 with 26 home runs and 60 RBIs in only 348 at bats. He was infamously nicknamed “Country Strong” by Tigers broadcaster Rod Allen.
Other highlights of Thames’ career in Detroit came during the 2007 season. On July 1, he hit a solo home run on the bottom of the eighth inning to score the only run in a victory over the Minnesota Twins. On July 6, he hit the third grand slam of his career at Comerica Park against the Boston Red Sox. Two days later, Thames belted one of the longest home runs in the history of Comerica Park, when his dinger to centerfield bounced off the camera area.
The following season, Thames hit eight home runs in seven consecutive games from June 11 to June 17, becoming the first Tiger in team history to achieve that feat. During the streak, eight consecutive hits were home runs!
On August 9, 2009, Thames hit his 100th career homer. He was released from the Tigers at the end of the season.
Thames signed a minor league deal to return to the Yankees on February 8, 2010. His contract was purchased prior to the regular season, adding him to the Yankees’ opening day roster.
Although he usually only started against left-handed pitchers. Thames came through with several big hits in 2010.
On May 17, he hit a walk-off home run against Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. On July 4, he returned from a DL stint to hit a game-ending single against the Toronto Blue Jays. On August 11, he helped the Yankees rally from a five-run deficit by hitting a home run in the eighth inning and a go-ahead single in the ninth inning to beat the Rangers. In a six-game stretch from August 24 to August 30, Thames had six home runs and 11 RBIs in 21 at bats!
Normally an outfielder, Thames made his first career appearance at third base on July 29, 2010 but later returned to the outfield. During the 2010 American League Championship Series, Thames served as designated hitter. The Yankees lost the series to the Texas Rangers in six games.
Thames elected free agency from the New York Yankees on November 7, 2010.
He signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 2011 season. He made 70 appearances for the Dodgers prior to his release in July.
Thames completed his career with a .245 batting average, 115 home runs and 301 RBIs. He averaged a home run every 15.4 at bats. He reached 100 home runs in 1,549 at bats, which is fewer than any other player with 100 home runs.
Thames was drafted twice by the New York Yankees before beginning his major league career.
He was first tapped in the 30th round of the amateur draft following his freshman season at East Central in 1996, when he batted .382 with three home runs, seven triples, 14 doubles and 36 RBIs.
Thames preferred instead to return to Jamie Clark’s Diamond Warrior squad and sharpen his skills.
The 1997 Diamond Warriors were MACJC State Tournament runners-up and advanced to the Region 23 Tournament en route to a record 40 wins and just 18 losses.
Thames led the offense with a then school record .420 batting average and had 13 home runs while collecting 70 RBIs.
He was named to NJCAA All-American, All-Region 23 and MACJC All-State squads following his record-setting season.
Thames credits the late Jamie Clark for his success in Major League Baseball.
“Thanks to Coach Clark, I excelled on and off the field,” Thames said, “The work ethic he instilled in me stayed with me throughout my professional career.”
Thames also has fond memories of his two years at East Central.
“From the moment I arrived on campus, I felt comfortable,” he said. “East Central welcomes its students with open arms. From my coaches, to professors, to teammates and friends….it was like a family.”
Thames made frequent visits to the EC campus during his professional career and often spoke to Lucille Wood’s physical education classes prior to her retirement in 2011.
During one of Thames’ visits to EC, his number “24” was retired during a ceremony held at the 2007 First Pitch Dinner prior the Diamond Warriors’ season opener.
Thames and his wife Danna have four children, Deja, Jade, Marcus, Jr., and Ella.