A trotting start for espnW player of the week Kirstyn Thomas
It took Kirstyn Thomas three seasons and as much patience as plate appearances to hit her first nine home runs for the University of Washington.
It took her three days this past weekend to hit her next five.
The start of any new season is a time of optimism and opportunity, every player a potential All-American and every team a potential champion. No one seized that opportunity with more enthusiasm than Thomas, the first espnW national softball player of the week for the 2018 season.
In helping Washington to a 5-0 start at a tournament in Peoria, Illinois, Thomas not only hit those five home runs but added three doubles, three walks and two stolen bases. She drove in 16 runs, scored 13 and hit .688 with a .737 on-base percentage and 1.813 slugging percentage.
While she had plenty of help in a lineup that produced 70 runs, she twice hit three-run home runs that put her team in front to stay. Indeed, she had twice as many home runs -- four -- as outs -- two -- through the first four games.
Always be ready because you never know when you're going to get called up.Kirstyn Thomas
It was that sort of weekend for the senior who piled up 28 percent of her career extra-base hits and 31 percent of her career RBIs in just 16 at-bats.
"Just being in control of it and having my heart rate at a slow pace and being super locked in pitch-by-pitch, we really practice that," Thomas said. "We really take pride in that and in getting to the next pitch. I feel like this weekend that's what I was trying to focus on, not worrying about the pitch before, the at-bat before. Just focusing in on that pitch at that time."
And while No. 5 Washington opened the season playing indoors at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex, a rarity among programs with the budgets to spend the opening months in warm climates, there is no asterisk required.
The twin indoor fields in Peoria measured 200 feet all the way around the outfield, compared to typical outdoor fields in NCAA softball that measure between 190 and 200 feet down the lines and 210 and 220 feet to center field. That Washington finished the season's opening weekend as the national leader in runs per game and slugging percentage might suggest the dimensions unduly favored hitters. But there wasn't much evidence of that in the tournament's other games. Seven games in which the Huskies weren't involved averaged a combined 7.1 runs per game, more than a run less than last season's national average. And Bradley, Saint Louis and Western Illinois combined to hit one more home run in around 350 at-bats than Thomas did in 16 at-bats.
Even among her Huskies teammates, only Taylor Van Zee had more than three extra-base hits.
She wasn't a product of the surroundings. She did the best job of adapting to them. And if the power surge struck even its source as unprecedented -- she couldn't remember a five-home run weekend in travel ball or any other setting -- her adaptability was four years in the making.
Thomas split her time between pitching and hitting as a freshman, totaling 35 1/3 innings in the circle and 15 plate appearances. She hasn't pitched since that season, the program's pitching depth replenished, but was limited to 20 plate appearances as primarily a pinch hitter during her sophomore season. Only a season ago did she finally find a regular place in the starting lineup. It isn't a unique story. It is instructive precisely because it is one shared by so many players whose first experience with any role less involved than a starring role comes at the college level.
"It's always a challenge not being able to go out there and play every day," Thomas said. "But finding your role on the team and just being there whenever they need you, I think that's honestly what I've learned the most throughout my four years. Always be ready because you never know when you're going to get called up."
A new season is what you make of it. No one made more of that opportunity last week than Thomas.