Revered at two Manteca high schools – Manteca High and Sierra High – retired varsity baseball coach Jack Thomson went to Florida and the Toronto Spring Training Camp with the Blue Jays and their farm teams last month for a week.
The Blue Jays currently include six minor league teams. Triple A is in Buffalo, a double A is in New Hampshire, two single A’s are in Lansing and they also have a team in Vancouver and one in Bluefield. They have an academy in the Dominican Republic.
Thomson was invited to the training camp by Ken Huckaby who he had coached years ago at MHS as the catcher. Huckaby introduced Thomson to the team at breakfast saying, “I want to introduce you to my high school coach from California.” Huckaby is currently the coaching coordinator for the Blue Jays.
Stayed at the Fenway Hotel and at spring training he got to be in the coaches’ office, got to go on the field with the coaches and players doing individual drill work and team drill work and watching batting practice. Thomson said he hit a few balls but hopes he will get to go back when he can be more involved in batting practice.
“Kenny had set it up so I could go wherever I wanted, ask questions and talk to the coaches. It was a lot of fun, a trip of a lifetime. I also got to sit in on the staff meetings and with the staff every morning and talk baseball. I talked to almost every coach who was there and when they were doing their team drills, I would talk to them afterwards – I just wanted to take all that stuff in. It was so nice. They really took care of me.”
Thomson spent 16 years coaching at Manteca High and 24 years at Sierra High School.
“I loved both schools but I felt like I needed a change and with Sierra starting up I felt it was like having a blank slate,” he said.
When he played for Manteca High, he would take second base and outfield under Coach Walker Vick graduating in 1973. Later when he returned as the MHS varsity baseball coach, Ed Brasmer was principal and when he moved to Sierra High School he worked for Principal Rick Arucan.
Getting to dress out in a Blue Jay uniform every day and watch batting practice was a real thrill for him as was being included in the staff meetings where he got to meet with Eric Wedge and Casey Candaele and talk baseball over breakfasts each morning. Candaele, 58, had played second base, outfielder and shortstop with the Blue Jays with a career batting average of .250. Wedge, 51, played catcher and was manager of the Indians in 2008, currently the director of player development for the Toronto team. Candaele and Wedge pretty much ran the on-field activity, Thomson added.
Thomson said he also got to chat with Dusty Baker at a recent conference in Dallas. Baker had played with the Braves and Dodgers and managed the San Francisco Giants Baseball team. They talked about Hank Aaron and Baker told him how the baseball icon would exercise his hands using the Sunday paper’s pages by crumpling them up one at a time with his fingers of both hands as an exercise regimen that kept his hands in shape.
He pointed out that baseball is not the same as it was in the past 40 or 50 years with nutritionists now included in the training equation. The players’ food is all high quality, healthy foods, he said.
“They have another whole department today called the High-Performance Department made up of the nutritionists, psychologists and exercise guys. The one guy I talked to quite a bit handles the mental aspects of the sport. So, you’ve got the baseball aspect, the nutritionist conditioning aspect, the mental part of it and they are trying to mesh all of them all together.
Thomson teaches one class a week covering computer applications of Word and Power Point at Modesto Junior College.
Son Travis has his dad’s former job as the Sierra High School head baseball coach.