September 11, 2011
As disappointing as that might be for Thomas, he knows life could've worked out far worse for him. 9/11 is a reminder of that.
Ten years ago, Thomas was pitching for the Minnesota Twins' Double-A affiliate in New Britain (Conn.). The Rock Cats were in the Eastern League playoffs, playing the Norwich Navigators in a best-of-five series.
Had New Britain lost the series, Thomas would've flown home to his native Australia. The first part of his flight was from Boston to Los Angeles, scheduled for Sept. 11. He had a ticket on American Airlines Flight 11, one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.
[ Photos: 9/11 sports tributes ]
Thomas never got onto that flight because the Rock Cats ended up advancing to the Eastern League finals, thanks in large part to Michael Cuddyer(notes). Cuddyer hit a two-run walkoff home run to win Game 1 of the series. And in Game 4, his three-run homer was the decisive blow, helping New Britain to the clinching victory.
Of course, Cuddyer couldn't have realized it at the time, but those home runs essentially saved his teammate's life.
"Michael pretty much saved our lives single-handedly by knocking in the winning runs in the last of the playoff games that took us to the next round," said Thomas, now a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.
The Eastern League finals were scheduled to begin on Sept. 11. Obviously, the first game wasn't played that day. (The series was eventually canceled.) At a team meeting, Thomas told his teammates that he was scheduled to be on one of the doomed flights.
Five days later, Cuddyer was called up to the majors.
Thomas eventually had a few short stints with the Twins and has faced his former team in his two seasons with the Tigers. That's given the two several opportunities to acknowledge the unique bond they share.
"Every time I see Michael, there's a handshake and a hug," Thomas said. "And we always wave each day on my way to the bullpen. I am one of his biggest supporters and always follow him no matter where I am in the world."
The Twins and Tigers are playing each other in Detroit this weekend, which would've allowed Thomas and Cuddyer to recollect the events of 10 years ago in each other's company. Unfortunately, Thomas won't be at Comerica Park since he's on the 60-day DL.
Here's hoping the two share a phone call at some point on Sunday.
Big BLS H/N: SB Nation Detroit
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