Prep baseball: GW has steady force at top of lineup
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you want impact out of a leadoff hitter, you go to George Washington sophomore John Thomas.
If you want the National Anthem played on an electric violin, you go to George Washington sophomore John Thomas.
The Patriots' leadoff hitter has combined his greatest loves, and like Glenn Donnellan and his Electric Slugger, Thomas has raised eyebrows of anybody watching him play baseball or listen to him play the strings.
Coach Chad Campbell's Patriots are 20-10 and thanks to an offense that averages 8.8 hits and 7.5 runs per game entering the Class AAA Region 3 Section 3 Tournament beginning Wednesday against South Charleston.
That success begins at the top with Thomas.
At a mere 15 years old, Thomas has been everywhere from his birthplace of Manhattan to Philadelphia and both Florida panhandles.
That hasn't slowed him down, as he takes a .422 batting average and a mean violin into this week's best-of-three series with the Patriots' biggest rival.
"I started out on the classical violin when I was 4," said Thomas, who has played the National Anthem on it at GW basketball and baseball games this school year. "I saw a bunch of other people doing other things (on the violin), so I switched. I started playing the electric violin about two years ago."
The idea came from Donnellan, a violinist for the National Symphony Orchestra. Louisville Slugger customized an electric violin for Donnellan out of a wooden bat, and even gave Donnellan a signature stamp.
Thomas has watched Donnellan, who - as well as the versatility of the electric violin - has inspired him.
"It's a whole different style of music," he said. "You get rock, everything. You switch from classical and you can apply it to everything.
"One day I decided to try to copy the version (by Donnellan) and figured it out to play it around at games."
Thomas could use his artistic and baseball talents to meet people, but didn't have a choice but to learn how to make friends.
West Virginia is the fourth state in which Thomas has lived, and the fifth city in four states he has resided.
It began in Manhattan. Two years later, he moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he lived for five years. Next, it was five years in Philadelphia, then back to Florida, northward to Knightsville, Fla., in the panhandle and now to Charleston.
His family moved to Charleston when his father, a urologist, was hired at St. Francis Hospital.
During his time in Knightsville his turnover ratio of friends was constant.
"Elgin Air Force Base is there and those kids would be switching out every couple years, so I'd see new kids," he said. "You just fit in, meet new people.
"It's been very good. Wherever I go, it's been easier and easier to fit in and make friends."
Nobody is happier than Campbell and the Patriots baseball program, which was afforded considerable versatility with Thomas in the lineup. Despite being a mere 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds, he has provided the team with a steadying force at the top of the lineup and in the field.
He had a varsity career-high four hits against South Charleston on April 26. Thomas has a hit in all but five games.
His arrival has become a safety blanket for Campbell.
"He's a leadoff hitter, which is what we weren't going to have," Campbell said. "He gave us the ability to have another left-handed stick in the order. He can run and he's a kid who can bunt. He probably has six or seven bunts for hits this year."
His value has increased exponentially with right fielder Clayton Anderson suffering a torn labrum. Anderson's injury has limited him to designated hitter duties, putting Thomas in right field and junior Austin Griffith in center.
"He's only played a couple games in right field and we moved him around a little bit," Campbell said.
While Thomas remains competitive on the field, he understands the need to learn, which he said happens every day at GW.
"I just want to do whatever ... play ball," he said. "I really enjoy it. It's been a lot of fun and I really enjoy this program at GW, because it's all about the game."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.