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Thys rebounding at Ohlone

Foremer Placer star playing well again after overcoming setbacks at Long Beach State
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Correspondent
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Joel Thys found out last season just what a grind college baseball can be — especially for a catcher. Then a freshman at Long Beach State — traditionally an NCAA Division I powerhouse — Thys wasn’t the 49ers’ everyday backstop. However, the Placer High graduate saw plenty of action, appearing in 27 of LBSU’s 55 games and starting 14. When he wasn’t behind the plate during a game, Thys was squatting down to give pitchers someone to throw to in the bullpen and in practice. All that catching had an adverse effect on Thys’ hitting. He batted just .155, though he did display some power, as four of his nine hits were doubles. “It was definitely hard staying after practice to do my own work (on hitting) because I was tired after catching four or five bullpens a day,” Thys said. “It took a toll on my body, but it helped me mature as a person. I’m taking care of my body, eating healthy and doing good physical exercises that keep me on the field every day.” Thys has in fact been on the field practically every day this season for Ohlone College in Fremont, where he transferred after Long Beach State’s head coach retired a year ago. Thys helped Ohlone (23-16) win its conference championship and hopes to help the Renegades continue defending their 2010 state title at this weekend’s California Community College Athletic Association NorCal Super Regional at Solano College in Fairfield. With Thys handling his pitchers, Ohlone coach Julian Russell believes his team has an excellent shot at repeating. “He’s got a great command of the game,” Russell said. “Our pitching staff responds well to him. A lot of times we don’t have to coach them, and that’s something you want in a catcher. He knows how to call a game, what to look for in batters — a lot of things guys don’t recognize. Little details, he points those things out.” Not only does Thys excel at calling pitches, according to Russell, he helps pitchers hit their spots — or at least look like they do. “He gives our young guys strikes sometimes with the way he frames the ball,” the coach said. “He gets his glove up and under balls that break down in the strike zone, and a lot of times that creates the perception that a pitch is a strike, even when it’s not.” Thys said he hasn’t had to make the Renegades’ hurlers look good too often. “All season long, I’ve thought we’ve had the best pitchers in the state,” he said. “It’s been fun to be able to catch them.” Defensively, Thys has made a team-high 245 putouts and thrown out 10 of the 27 baserunners who have attempted to steal against him. “He blocks the ball very well,” Russell said. “He keeps the ball in front of him, makes good throws to second and shuts down the running game for the other team.” Batting-wise, Thys is doing better than he did at Long Beach State. Though he was hitting below .200 in early April, he has since raised his average to a more respectable .229 with two doubles, 10 RBIs and 11 runs scored. Thys was especially hot at the plate in last weekend’s regional playoff against Butte College, stroking five hits in 10 plate appearances. “I made a few adjustments here and there,” Thys said. “I talked to the coaches and changed a couple of things, but it’s just one of those times where the ball looks bigger. It’s like a beach ball.” Swinging the bat became difficult for Thys after he broke the hamate bone in his left hand last summer while playing in a collegiate wooden-bat league in New York. Though the hand was repaired by the San Francisco Giants’ team physician, Kenneth Akizuki, Russell believes the injury affected Thys’ ability to be aggressive at the plate. “That was a little bit of a mental block for him,” Russell said. “He’s starting to overcome that.” A switch hitter in high school, Thys has concentrated on batting left-handed to improve his numbers at the plate. He’s doing something his father Greg –—a former college ballplayer at Cal who later played in the San Diego Padres’ farm system — taught him: “Keep it simple,” he said. “I’m just trying to use my power more, shorten my swing and hit the ball on a line as hard as I can instead of trying to do too much,” Thys said. While he hasn’t yet declared a major, Thys is leaning toward communications. He eventually hopes to become a Division I college coach. Before then, however, Thys hopes to return to the Division I level to play for another year or two. The University of San Diego, Vanderbilt and the University of Washington have already shown interest, he said. “I have some options, and I’m keeping them open right now,” he said.