BY JEFF FALK
Isn’t Travis Thome a little young to be heading a college baseball program? Why, yes. Yes he is.
But the 23-year-old Thome is going to go ahead and do it any way.
You see, in spite of his age, Thome has a few things going for him. He’s mature beyond his years, the fact that he’s been around baseball all his life makes him uniquely experienced and he’s got some pretty good blood lines from which to draw.
Thome, a 2007 graduate of Elco High School and a 2011 graduate of Messiah College, is Eastern Maine Community College’s new head baseball coach. But not only did Thome land a head position as his first coaching job, he could also be considered the founder of EMCC’s baseball program.
Located in Bangor, baseball was a club sport at Eastern Maine Community College when Thome took the position this spring. This fall, EMCC will play its initial inter-collegiate schedule and later join the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.
“Every once in a while when I’m doing e-mails or scheduling, it hits me like ‘Not many have an opportunity to become a head coach at your age’,” said Thome. “But if you dwell on it, you start questioning yourself. I’ve just got to tell myself, ‘Travis, you got the job. Now it’s time to do the job.
“I’m ten hours away from home,” Thome continued. “I applied for the coaching job and I got it. Besides my application, they (EMCC administration) didn’t have a clue as to who I was. But I got the job for a reason. God put me up here for a reason. There’s no time to second-guess why I’m here.”
Deep down, Thome may have known he always wanted to coach. But that realization only came to the forefront at the end of his college days at Messiah, where he majored in health and physical education.
“It was probably in college when it really hit me,” said Thome, who pitched for the Division Three Falcons. “We had an assistant coach who became an interim (head) coach. In my senior year, I was a starting pitcher and I pitched once a week, and I found myself helping some of the younger guys during down time. I think it just clicked that this is the field I could see myself in. To me, I figured if I’m not going to play, I might as well coach.
“That’s (making coaching a career) my goal, especially when you think about when you first get into coaching you pay your dues,” added Thome. “I go through a lot of struggles being a young head coach. But I do think I’m a little ahead of the schedule. Maybe when it comes time to test the next level, this will be a good experience.”
Upon graduation, Thome got married and the newly-weds found themslves living in Bangor. Thome began teaching and applying for coaching positions, six or seven of them, before the Eastern Maine Community College job caught his eye.
“I don’t think age had anything to do with it,” said Thome. “The experience I had in the past. I’ve been around baseball since I was born. The family I grew up in pretty much lived and breathed baseball. I might be only 23, but I feel like I have more experience in baeball than most 23-year-olds. My grand-father (local legend Lyle Krall) helped me out tremendously, just who he is and what he’s done. My assistant is almost twice my age and I think sometimes, ‘Why did’t they hire him?’
“It’s baseball,” Thome continued. “It’s a game I’ve been playing my whole life. I don’t know everything, but I thought I could continue a program that’s going to be growing in the next few years.”
“The biggest thing is making sure we have the equipment we need,” Thome said. “It costs money to start up a program. The school’s been very supportive and they’ve allowed me to get the proper equipment. A lot of it is scheduling. We don’t have a field on our campus, so it’s making sure we have a place to play.
“And then the biggest thing is getting players,” Thome added. “There was a good bit of interest to get things started. Some of the guys talked to their friends in high school and the word slowly spread. You just want people to know you have a program.”
Because of the weather in Maine, the college year is split between spring and fall – about 15 games per each season.
“When we recruit players from down south it’s always in the back of my mind, ‘Why the heck would you want to come to Maine to play baseball?'” said Thome. “Our first year here the weather wasn’t that much different than in Pennsylvania. We didn’t have that tough of a winter. It just starts getting cooler a little earlier.
“There’s not that much of a difference,” added Thome. “There’s plenty of facilities. Some of the high schools have indoor batting cages. As for our school, we’re looking to put up an indoor batting cage.”
“I tell the guys, because of the league we play in, it’s mostly for community colleges,” said Thome. “It’s for guys who were average to above average players in high school. If you were a decent starter in high school, you can be competitive here. That’s our goal this year. Our first goal is all we want to do is be competitive. If we go out and play solid baseball, limit our mistakes and maximize our opportunities, we can do it.
“It’s not a huge step to win our association and go on to our national tournament,” Thome continued. “Geographically, there’s not many colleges around here, and there’s a lot of high schools. We have the upper-hand in getting those players. This year will be our first full year, and then we want to be one of the top teams in our association every year.”
It may or may not take Thome a little longer to whip Eastern Maine Community College into a winner. But given his support system, one that extends all the way to the eastern part of Lebanon County in Pennsylvania, one has few doubts that it will happen eventually.
“My father and his dad, actually the Thome side of the family, really instilled in me that hard work pays off,” said Thome. “‘If you’re dedicated to something, see it through.’ I was fortunate enough to play baseball where my grand-father (Krall) coached, and playing for him at Richland in the summer. I would talk to him (Krall) after every game, whether it was high school or college. I would ask him about what happened. It’s just amazing having him as a mentor. I see myself as very lucky.
“He (Krall) took me to my first baseball game when I was two months old,” Thome continued, “and only because I was born in December. In my 23 years, it’s always been baseball. After I was done playing it didn’t seem right for it to go away. I know I have that foundation that’s really supportive. As we’re starting this up, I’m always asking Lyle questions. I think I’ve definitely been prepared for this part of my life.”