Throwback Thursday: Rob Thomson

Nov. 4, 2010

Rob Thomson (baseball, 1982-85)

Thomson, the Jayhawk record holder for the highest single-season batting average, led KU in hits in 1984 and 1985. He also took home the Gib Francis MVP award in 1984 and 1985. He went on to be drafted in the 32nd round of the 1985 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers. Following a short playing career with the Tigers, Thomson transitioned into coaching and has spent more than 20 years working in various positions with both the Tigers and New York Yankees. Thomson and his wife Michelle reside in Tampa, Fla., with their two daughters Jacqueline and Christina.

Aside from being the third base coach of the Yankees, what have you been doing since you left KU?

“Well in 1985 I signed with the Detroit Tigers. I spent a few years in their system as a player and then two years as a coach. Then I came to the Yankees in 1990 and now I have been here for 20 years. I have worn a lot of hats in the Yankees chain. I have been a coach throughout the system and managed a little bit. I was the farm director, so I ran the minor leagues for a while. I was the major league field coordinator for Joe Torre for a few years. In 2008 I became the bench coach under Joe Girardi, and then in 2009 and this season I was the third base coach.”

Where do you live during the offseason/season?

“My offseason home is in Tampa, Fla. I have an apartment in Manhattan during the summer. My wife, Michelle, and I have two daughters Jacqueline (21) and Christina (15). My family spends the winters in Tampa and then when Christina finishes school in the spring they join me in New York.”

What made you choose to attend KU?

“I’m a Canadian citizen. I was playing in Canada. The league I was playing in was allowed to get United States imports. There were two guys on my team from KU, Dennis Coplen and Bill Yelton. I didn’t have a school to play for yet, so they called Marty Pattin, who was the coach at KU at the time, and he offered me a scholarship. I came to KU and it was obviously the right move for me.”

What made you want to start playing baseball?

“I am the youngest in my family. I have a brother who is 13 years older than me and another one who is 10 years older. They loved baseball and my dad loved baseball. My oldest brother signed with the Montreal Expos and my other brother played at a junior college in Michigan. I followed them around and was a bat boy. I just became interested in the game. I started playing when I was five years old. I played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter. I loved it. I kept working at it and got to the point where people started watching me and then the scholarship came about at KU.”

What made you want to get into coaching?

“I think the biggest part of it was the fact that I wasn’t a good enough player. The game sort of forced me into coaching. I was lucky enough the Tigers thought enough of me as an evaluator, teacher and an organizer to offer me a coaching position. So that is really what it was, it wasn’t an injury or anything like that. I wasn’t as good as the rest of the guys, but I had some skills in management and dealing with people. I was pretty fortunate the Tigers gave me a shot and it has worked out well so far.”

What is your favorite baseball memory from KU?

“I would say my first year at KU, when we made it to the Big Eight Tournament. We didn’t fair too well, but playing in Oklahoma City in front the most people I had ever played in front of at the time (was a thrill), and reaching a goal as a club to get to the tournament was the biggest and best memory I have from when I was there.”

What is your favorite professional baseball memory?

“I have been very fortunate because since I have been with the Yankees we have won five World Championships. There is not really one that stands out other than last year because I was the third base coach in 2009. To be able to experience it on the field was really amazing. Again, it’s about the team and most of my greatest memories are team accomplishments, so it is definitely my biggest memory as a pro.”

Do you still keep in touch with your Jayhawk teammates?

“Yes, in fact I stay in touch with most of them. We get together in Naples, Fla. and have a golf outing every year. Usually there are 8-12 different guys who come down. We definitely try to stay in touch. All of those guys are very successful in their careers. It is fun to watch and fun to catch up with them.”

Do you make it back to Lawrence/Do you still follow KU sports?

“I try to get back to Lawrence at least once a year for either a football game or a basketball game. I follow all of the programs pretty religiously via the internet and on TV. I catch probably 20-25 games a year on TV. I follow them pretty close, I am a big fan!”

Talk about your career at Kansas and what it means to be a Jayhawk.

“It is funny because there are so many Jayhawks out there. I run into them all the time. I don’t have to explain to people about being a Jayhawk because in New York they have a Jayhawk bar where all the KU people in New York City go to hang out and watch games. When I get a chance, I go to that bar and try to meet some people. I meet KU people all over the country. They read our media guide and find out that I went to school at Kansas and talk to me about being a Jayhawk. It is pretty neat. It is obviously a big school with a big alumni base, so I see Jayhawks all over the place.”

What is it like working for the Yankees, in New York and at Yankee Stadium?

“Being with the Yankees is really a very special thing. We have had a lot of success since I have been here and long before I got here. We make sure that we have good people who work hard, prepare and compete at a high level. That is the biggest thing we have going for us. We have great ownership and management. It is a lot of fun to work in New York in Yankee Stadium. It is electric every night and I don’t think there is any other place that is as exciting as Yankee Stadium. It is fun to go to work every day because you have the excitement of the stadium and the excitement of the city. There is a huge fan base and you are dealing with really talented people and really good people every day. It is a lot of fun to go to work.”

What do you miss most about being in Lawrence?

“Well, first of all I was a lot younger then! I wish I could go back and be 20 years old again! I miss Lawrence because I miss my friends and teammates. We were together there every day for four years. I miss being on a college campus, that was a lot of fun. I miss the tradition of the school. That was really neat. We have tradition with the Yankees, but at KU that was the first time I had ever been at a place where there was so much tradition and pride in the school that you went to and its sports teams. I miss the city of Lawrence because it’s just such a beautiful campus and beautiful little town that I was really comfortable in. I came from a small town in Canada and Lawrence reminded me a lot of where I grew up. I was very comfortable from the first day that I walked on to campus.”

Any final thoughts on your time at KU?

“I think KU is a great school. It got me ready for what I am doing right now. There is not enough money in the world to pay them back for what they have given me, shown me and prepared me for in my professional life. I will always be a fan. I will always be a supporter. I love to go back as often as possible.”