While Houston Baptist’s Christian Thames is making himself known in the Southland Conference with a meager 1.10 ERA, the mound is not the only place to look for the Texas native on the HBU lineup card.
In the team’s first series this year against Binghamton, “I was told to get a bat, and be ready to pinch-hit,” said Thames. “And then our pitching coach, Coach X [former major league pitcher Xavier Hernandez] came over and said, ‘Go get warmed up, we need you on the mound as well.’ So I had to prepare to pinch-hit, and then come in the game as a relief pitcher.”
The series was an early indication of Thames’s role with HBU this year. In the last weekend series of February, the left-hander pitched in the first game and allowed no runs, belted a double in the second as a DH, and played left field and pitched in the third game. In that third and final game, a victory over Washington State, Thames – who bats right – drilled two home runs, drove in four and worked a scoreless inning of relief.
Versatility isn’t newly acquired for Thames. In high school, he earned multiple All-District honors in baseball, tennis and as a kicker on the football team. His brother, Zac, is on the bass fishing team at Stephen F. Austin and in high school the two comprised a formidable doubles combination.
Given his past feats, hitting and pitching in the same game represent just a narrow band of Thames’s wide range of athletic talents. “I’ve been doing it for most of my life: from the field to pitcher, pitching out to the field, and just hitting constantly,” said Thames.
His father, Tyler, is a former pro tennis player, and although at 49 he is slowed by the accumulated wear of a lifetime on the hardcourt, “He’s still out there hitting and beating me at tennis. That’s for sure,” said Thames. His mother, Terry, is a former state champion at basketball. “So my father can’t take all the credit for my athletic ability,” he said, laughing.
Thames transferred to HBU this season after an outstanding career at Texas’s two-year Blinn College. While there, he batted .341 and drove in 24 runs in 42 games as a sophomore. He also made 11 appearances on the mound in his final season, but a subpar 6.26 ERA and a 2-4 record obscured the talent that helped him post a 5-2 record in his freshman campaign.
He arrived in Houston primarily as a first baseman, with the ability to play some outfield. “They figured out that I could pitch, so now I’m pitching,” said Thames.
On the hill, he’s not a power pitcher. “I’ll probably sit 84-85 (mph) with my fastball. I can throw the changeup and the curveball for a strike,” said Thames. “The biggest thing for me is that I’m going to pound the strike zone. And allow the hitter to get themselves out.”
The pitcher puts roughly 75% of his offerings over the plate. “I’m going to come right at you before I pick around the edges to try to get a called strike three,” said Thames.
In 2015, the Huskies made their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division I Tournament. To qualify, they went 4-0 in the Southland Conference Tournament, and torched opposing lineups as their starters pitched four complete games. HBU allowed just two runs combined in the four games.
On Sunday, in a losing effort, Thames still twirled a gem in his first start for the Huskies. It was reminiscent of last year’s HBU pitchers. He scattered seven hits, allowed one run, and struck out five while walking only one. Year-to-date Thames is holding opposing batters to a paltry .169 batting average.
As a wellness management major, Thames hopes to pursue a career in physical therapy. “The things that keeps pushing me academically, is that coming out of here with a degree from Houston Baptist is looked on highly. I take a lot of pride in the school and what I do here,” said Thames.
When asked, the junior does not put a lot of stock in the notion of a pro baseball career, yet. “I’m enjoying my time here doing what I can to help out the team. If that turns into a future in baseball, I’d be ecstatic to pursue it, but it’s not something I’m looking too heavily into right now,” he added.
Given the range of skills he possesses, he may find dual career options ahead of him when he graduates.