The Peninsula Oilers, fresh off their first Alaska Baseball League title since 2000, recently announced the hiring of Aric Thomas to take over head coaching duties for the 2007 season.
“I’m really excited. I really like it up there. It’s the only place I would go for the summer,” Thomas said by phone from Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton, Okla., where he is head coach of the Mountaineers baseball team.
Thomas will be embarking on his second stint as Oilers head coach. He last coached the squad during the 2004 season. The Oilers went 27-18 overall and 21-14 in the ABL under Thomas and finished one game out of first place and a tie-break away from a trip to the National Baseball Congress World Series. Thomas was named coach of the year.
“That’s the thing we want to do. Every summer that’s the goal. I think the NBC tournament is a great tournament to be involved in,” Thomas said of the opportunity to return to the NBC tournament with the Oilers.
Thomas replaces Thad Johnson, who coached the Oilers to the ABL title this season and compiled a 23-12 league record and a 33-17 overall mark, which includes a 2-2 record at the NBC tournament. Johnson also served as an Oilers assistant coach for two seasons.
Thomas’ history with the Oilers goes back to 1993 when he was a player on the team that won the second of the Oilers’ three NBC titles. That team included four players who would go on to play in the major leagues: outfielder Ryan Christenson, pitcher Mike Saipe, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz and pitcher Mark Redman. Mientkiewicz and Redman currently are teammates with the Kansas City Royals.
Thomas also had signed on to coach the Oilers for 2001 season, but commitments at the University of Oklahoma, where he was a member of the coaching staff, prevented him from making it to Alaska for the summer.
Thomas said the key to success in the Alaska league is recruiting the right kind of players.
“I think it starts with getting guys who are committed to getting better and playing hard. If you get the right group of kids committed to doing the right thing, that’s the biggest way to have success, but it starts with the players and what type of program and coaches they play for in college,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he’d like to put together a team with a lot of speed, but also wants to have some big bats in the middle of the order. He also said strong pitching, like the Oilers got from the 2006 staff, would be a key to success next year.
“With last year’s team winning the league, we’ll try to retain some of the players from last year’s team, and build around a nucleus of guys from last year,” Thomas said.
Oilers’ general manager Shawn Maltby has been with the organization for just one season, and while he hasn’t met Thomas face to face, he already is looking forward to next season.
“We’re excited. I don’t know A.T. personally, but if I can take (Oilers assistant coach Brian) Hickman’s recommendation, he’s going to be great,” Maltby said.
Thomas has been the head coach at Eastern Oklahoma for two seasons, and said he enjoys being the man in charge.
“No question. That summer I got a taste of being a head coach up in Alaska that’s what I want to do. It’s great being able to run your own program and put in your own philosophy. I just love it,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the Kenai Peninsula is a special place.
“Everything the people, the community, my familiarity with it, the fishing it’s a good place for the summer. I look forward to it,” Thomas said. “... I’m just excited. I can’t wait to get the team put together, get up there, have a great summer, get back on the field, and get to fish a little bit, too.”
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