If Oilers baseball operations manager Mike Baxter was to have sat down and written out a dream resume for his next manager, it probably would have looked something like the credentials of Aric Thomas, a former Oilers player and now an assistant coach at Oklahoma University.
Thomas was named the 17th manager in Oilers history last week by the club, meaning he will lead the three-time defending Alaska Baseball League champions into their 29th season next summer.
"We're really excited," Baxter said. "He was everybody's first choice."
Take a look at the bio on Thomas and it's no wonder Baxter was itching to get him in the third-base coach's box at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
For starters, Thomas, a native of Riverside, Calif., has been friends with Gary Adcock since childhood.
Adcock resigned as Oilers head coach last summer with the best winning percentage in the team's history. In his two-year tenure, he led the Oilers to two ABL titles and second- and fourth-place finishes in the National Baseball Congress World Series.
"I told Gary he was a tough act to follow," Thomas said during a phone interview Sunday.
Thomas, 28, was a class behind Adcock all through school. Adcock even tried to convince Thomas to come up and help him with the team a few years back, but Thomas had a prior commitment.
"We grew up together," he said. "We played Little League and high school together.
"I've already talked to him about putting the team together for next summer. He's just one of a lot of good people I have to advise me."
One of those other good people is Sunny Golloway, who, as Baxter is happy to point out, is the last assistant coach the Oilers hired from Oklahoma.
Golloway, now the head coach at Oral Roberts University, managed the Oilers in 1993, 1994 and for part of the 1995 season. He won NBC World Series in 1993 and 1994 and had a winning percentage of .644, which is second to Adcock's .676 on the all-time list.
"He's someone I still keep in contact with," Thomas said. "At Oral Roberts, he's only 90 minutes from us so we play them a lot.
"He was my on-field coach when I played at Oklahoma, so I've got a good relationship with him."
Golloway also coached Thomas when the outfielder played for the Oilers in the 1993 season. Thomas played a key part in getting the Oilers the NBC championship that year, going 2-for-5 and scoring four runs in Peninsula's 9-1 victory in the championship game.
"Winning the whole thing was a great experience," Thomas said. "I still stay in contact with a lot of the guys who were on that team."
Not only does Thomas fondly recall the baseball on the Kenai, he also looks back favorably on the fishing. His host family got him into the sport, and he remembers going every night he could with fellow Oiler Ryan Christenson, who now plays outfield for the Oakland Athletics.
Of course, Thomas has more on his resume than connections to great Oilers managers of years past.
"He's a well-thought-of assistant coach in college baseball," Baxter said.
Thomas lettered in 1994 and 1995 as an outfielder for the Sooners. In those two seasons, Thomas played in two College World Series for Oklahoma, including the Sooners' 1994 national championship team.
Thomas was an All-Big Eight Conference selection as a senior in 1995 and was named to the All-NCAA Midwest II Regional Team in 1995 after helping the Sooners through the Midwest II field with a 4-0 mark.
All told, the Sooners had an 8-0 record in NCAA Regional play and a 12-2 mark in the NCAA postseason during Thomas' playing career. That's why Thomas said he won't feel any pressure taking over one of the best summer college baseball programs in the country. He said he's always put tremendous pressure on himself to succeed.
"I don't think there's any added pressure because it's the Oilers," he said. "I'm coming up there to win. It doesn't matter if the team I'm taking over has had success in the last 10 years or has been terrible. I want to do a good job."
Thomas has been with the Oklahoma coaching staff for five years, and he also has served as an assistant coach the past couple of summers in the Cape Cod League, which is, along with the Alaska Baseball League, considered the top college summer baseball league.
His specialties as a coach are outfielding, base running and hitting. Those first two areas should pop out as important to anyone who has watched a game at the vast confines of Seymour Park when the players are using wood bats.
Thomas said he plans to do a lot of stealing and bunting to keep the pressure on the opposition, a style of managing that paid big dividends for Adcock.
"Maybe that was a big reason Mike hired me," Thomas said. "He may have remembered that as a player I liked to bunt and steal a lot.
"If you just get a team of power hitters in Kenai, it's going to be a long summer."
Thomas said he is behind in recruiting because he was hired a little bit late. However, he said schools will commonly hold players for organizations with sterling reputations like that of the Oilers.
As a point of reference, Adcock got a late start recruiting when he was hired two years ago and still managed to win the ABL and take second at the NBC.
"There's plenty of players out there," Thomas said. "We'll be fine.
"Mike's the best and we've been in contact at least once every two days about players' contracts."
Clarion reporter Will Morrow contributed to this story.
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