Longtime, widely respected baseball coach and former Director of Athletics Brian Thomas will retire after this season, capping 23 years at Ursinus College and a 43-year career. In appreciation for his many years of service, his winning record on the field and his mentoring countless players, Ursinus will name its baseball field Thomas Field on April 28 between a double header. After the first game against Gettysburg slated to begin at 12:30 p.m., Thomas will be honored at a ceremony, and the College will dedicate the field. A second game against Gettysburg is scheduled following the dedication. A baseball team picnic with parents is planned for after the game.
Thomas said he plans to enjoy retirement with his wife, Sue, Executive Associate Director of Admission, who is also retiring. “The time is right,” he said. “There is never really a good time, a right time, because as a coach, you always want to see the next class through.”
Thomas announced his decision to retire this past week to a circle of past and former players. “I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to not only have had the opportunity to coach at Ursinus but to compete in such a class league with class coaches and programs,” he wrote.
“Brian’s legacy in Ursinus Athletics is what he imparted to his players on the values of true sportsmanship, character and teamwork,” said Director of Athletics Laura Moliken. “As a fellow coach, I knew he had a special gift for the profession. Working with him for many years, I appreciated his efforts to insure that our teams are respected and admired for far more than our wins. Ursinus Athletics is a better program today for all that Brian gave to Ursinus.”
The field has been Thomas’s classroom. “I think I’m a coach that prides himself on being a teacher, mentor, counselor, to help young men grow and mature,” said Thomas, who is known as Coach T. “I am teaching life skills through the sport of baseball. That is the key to my coaching.” Thomas told his current and former players, many of them now coaches, that he encourages all of them to continue mentoring their players.
Baseball, he noted, lends itself to teaching life skills: “You’re out there by yourself, you strike out, you make an error, and how you handle that is how you learn. Baseball teaches a lot about how you handle yourself,” he said.
Many parents, alumni and players attest to what Thomas has taught them and their sons, and are familiar with his “words to live by,” among them, accountability, adaptability, character, courage, confidence, composure, dignity, determination, ethics, endurance, honor, humility, humor, integrity, loyalty, leadership, patience, resolve, sportsmanship and teamwork.
Former player Dan Ortiz 2006, now a high school teacher and baseball coach, wrote, “In my four years as a player, then a few months as a coach in the fall of ’06, I was able to learn so much from you about the game of baseball and about life. Sometimes the lessons were taught directly, but more often they were taught by observing how you carried yourself on a daily basis. You helped us all to become better men, not only better ballplayers, and that legacy will last forever. For me personally, I learned the value of hard work and to take pride in everything that you do; to not make excuses; and the true definition of character, integrity and respect. These are qualities that I will always keep with me both on the field and off of it, and I try to pass these lessons on to my students, my players and now to my own kids.”
Thomas has served in several other roles at Ursinus, including liaison to alumni and members of the community, and as a member of the boards of both the Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Collegeville Main Street program. In this capacity he forged relationships and brought a sense of collaboration between the community and the college.
He was Athletic Director for a decade, from 2000 to 2010, and during that time developed relationships with faculty with the goal of integrating athletics and academics. He saw the completion of the athletic facility, the Floy Lewis Bakes Athletic Center, as well as the installation of the Eleanor Frost Snell Turf field and was involved in fundraising for the new turf Patterson football field. Under his leadership, the number of fulltime coaches increased from two when he arrived (football and field hockey) to 11 head coaches coaching 17 sports, out of 25 sports total. Thomas’s Ursinus baseball players were the first baseball champions in the Centennial Conference in the 1995-96 academic year.
Thomas joined the Ursinus coaching staff in 1990 and began building a successful program, with two NCAA Division III regional appearances, and more than 400 Ursinus victories — more wins than any baseball coach in the college’s history. He is one of the best baseball coaches in NCAA Division III play, with more than 788 wins in his overall coaching career over 43 years, including three Centennial Conference Championships. He is ranked the second all-time winning coach in Centennial Conference baseball, with a 211-131 record. In addition, he has among his titles two Middle Atlantic Regionals, an ECAC Championship and runner-up status, and saw 20 wins in a season 11 times.
Thomas’s accomplishments are equally impressive on the Jr. American Legion level, where he coached teams to the Pennsylvania Jr. Legion Sectional and State playoffs more than 15 times. Among his many honors, he was voted to the Pennsylvania American Legion Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted into the Perkiomen School Hall of Athletic Honor in 2001, and was selected as an instructor for the prestigious Roberto Clemente All-Star Camp in Puerto Rico. He was named the Pottstown Mercury Area High School Coach of the Year in 1989, and in 2000 was named to the Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School Wall of Honor. He was inducted into the Perkiomen School Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, and in 2008 he was inducted into the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame.
A retired U.S. Army first lieutenant, Thomas was a platoon leader in Vietnam. Among his military awards and honors are the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star with V for Valor, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and a Jungle Expert Badge.
For all his honors, Thomas say that the most rewarding and memorable times in his career have been with the student athletes and their families. “They are an extended family.” — W.G.