BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – From the shores of the Raritan River in Somerset County, to the rolling greens of Eastern Pennsylvania, four Patriots will be heading to the 2016 Atlantic League All-Star Game in Lancaster on Wednesday.
Left-handed relief pitcher Mike Thomas joined pitcher Brandon Sisk, outfielder Aharon Eggleston and former MLB All-Star first baseman Bryan LaHair on the Liberty Division’s roster.
Though the Patriots had the fewest players selected to the game of any team in the league, Thomas embraces representing his club in the midsummer classic.
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“When you have the standard of success like you do here in Somerset, the bar is set a little higher,” the 27-year-old Baltimore native said. “You want to be the best in the league every year, and [my teammates and I] strive to do that.”
The Rider University alumnus picked up five years of minor league experience with the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates of the LA Dodgers before shutting down batters out of the Patriots pen this season.
In 29.1 innings of work so far in 2016, Thomas punched out 29 batters and yielded just five earned runs, to the tune of a 1.53 ERA.
“The level of play is pretty similar [to Triple-A],” the first-year Atlantic Leaguer said. “Guys here know how to play, they know how to work counts, and they know how to work situations, just like Triple-A. It’s not much of a difference.”
Thomas embraces his chance to play with and against the top talent in the Atlantic League, including fellow Patriot left-handed reliever Brandon Sisk.
Together, the Somerset southpaws have been giving opposing lefties headaches all season. Thomas said it’s “awesome” to both be named All-Stars.
“It’s almost like a clubhouse joke – lefties stick together all the time,” Thomas said. “We kind of have a little competition between ourselves, being the two lefties out of the bullpen, so we go out and push each other, and it’s fun.”
Sisk has been “throwing his tail off,” according to his teammate, and lit up the Atlantic League for 40 strikeouts and a 1.45 ERA over 29 innings pitched this year.
“[Sisk] is having an unbelievable year, a sneaky good year,” Thomas said of the 30-year-old, acquired this year from the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League. “We all had our ups and downs but he was just kind of steady the whole way and started punching guys out, and next thing we knew, you look up and he’s on top of the league in a bunch of categories.”
Though the dynamic Sisk and Thomas duo stand as the only All-Star hurlers for the Patriots this season, neither are one of the five pitchers on the staff with major league experience. Thomas said he learns a lot from his teammates, both the lesser traveled, and those who’ve had their "cups of coffee" in the big leagues.
“I definitely talk to a lot of the guys here about pitch selection, or maybe grips, or how to attack certain hitters,” he said.
Former Chicago Cub first baseman Bryan LaHair also guides Thomas and the rest of the Patriots in the clubhouse.
“[LaHair] was an All-Star at the highest level there is,” Thomas said of the 2012 National League team member. “He’s just a good leader in the middle of the lineup and has a ton of experience.”
With a first half record of 38-32, good for second in the Liberty Division, each of the all-stars competed on a nightly basis to help their team win ball games, according to Thomas. Despite the effort, the Patriots failed to meet their hopes in the first half of the season, and the all-star reliever wants to turn things around moving forward.
“As a team we came up a little short in the first half in the playoffs,” Thomas said, “So we’ve got to pick it up in the second half. I think we’ve played well all season long so you’ve just got to keep fighting and hopefully good things will happen.”
For Thomas and the rest of the Patriots, winning will be grinded out one game at a time, and the first-time Atlantic League All-Star said he will just relax and enjoy the festivities.
“We all know it’s going to be fun and it’ll be a little laid back,” he said. “It’s kind of a chance to unwind but still play and have a good time.”
First pitch in the 2016 Atlantic League All-Star Game from Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, PA, is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13.