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Inching closer

April 9, 2003

It may seem a bit early to be talking about magic numbers in baseball, but for Valdosta State head coach Tommy Thomas, the countdown has been on for quite some time now. Thomas is just five wins away from becoming Division II's all-time winingest coach.

"The biggest accomplishment is not the wins, it's just lasting that long," Valdosta State head coach Tommy Thomas said. Tommy Thomas' career win-loss record at Valdosta State is a product of longevity. But as they say, the numbers never lie. His coaching career at VSU has spanned five decades and in that time twenty three of his thirty five teams have reached post season play.

He's had ten seasons with forty or more wins, and won a national championship in 1979. He now sits at 1194 career wins, five shy of breaking the all-time division two record. "Truly, I'm not hung up on it. I would like for it to hurry up and come and let's just get it out of the way. But if we hurry up and get it out of the way that means we're having a good year, that's the biggest thing," Thomas added.

Over the years Tommy Thomas has become somewhat of a living legend in college baseball, his reign stretching so long in Winnersville that he now coaches the son of a former player. "I think that kind of helped in a way because I knew what to expect and my dad was supportive of me going here because he knew what I was going to get," Valdosta State senior Scott Simpson said.

Scott Simpson is a senior first baseman for the Blazers, thirty years after his father, Rusty, was an All-American Pitcher under Thomas. "Every now and then Scott will tell me something that he (Thomas) was talking about, and I will say 'That's the way he coaches, that's the way it's done. It's worked for him for 31 years so do what he says,'"Rusty Simpson said.

But despite the nearly 1200 wins and numerous championships he's accumulated on the field, Tommy Thomas might be remembered for the impact he's had off the field and the role that he's played in the lives of his former and current players. " I think he's been a positive role model for his players through the years, I know he was for me. His ethics, his morals, looking back on it he was just a good person," former player Bobby Tripp said.

"When kids come to him even out of town kids, especially local kids he just takes them under his wing and he's like a father figure to them. You know he teaches them the game of baseball but he helps them with the game of life also," former player Cecil Whitehead said.

And although he says he would love to patrol the dugout of Billy Grant Field forever, Thomas says the end is near. "I'm 98 percent sure that I will announce that next year will be my last year. That leaves me 2 percent to do whatever I want to with."

But before that day comes, a much brighter moment is in store for the 62 year old. With just five more wins he'll pass his longtime friend Cal Poly Pomona's John Scolinas as D-Two's winningest coach, a milestone that is even hard for Thomas to imagine. "Chill bumps. A chill bump moment as they say." 1199 chill bumps, to be exact.

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