CHICAGO—Alek Thomas knows all about the idiosyncrasies of patrolling the outfield at Wrigley Field.
The 17-year-old Chicagoan has played at the iconic park and even shagged pre-game fly balls this week prior to the annual Chicago Cubs-Chicago White Sox inter-league clash.
“The ball flies out of there, that’s one tip for an outfielder,” he said on Friday during Under Armour All-America Baseball Game drills at Northwestern University. “There’s wind blowing in from every which direction, so just stay on your toes.”
A 5-foot, 11-inch incoming senior at Chicago’s Mt. Carmel High School, Thomas is part of an elite 40-player group participating in Saturday’s game at Wrigley Field.
The game, now in its 10th year, will be played under the lights at the home of the reigning World Series champions.
The players won’t get a chance to experience the gale-force winds from the southwest that can sometimes send routine fly balls onto Waveland Ave., well beyond the left field bleachers.
Instead, forecasts call for game-time temperatures in the mid-70s with gentle winds from the northeast, blowing in off nearby Lake Michigan.
Regardless, playing at Wrigley Field is pretty cool, Thomas says. But his favorite team actually resides on the South Side of town.
His father, Allen Thomas, is director of conditioning for the Chicago White Sox, offering Alek Thomas unique opportunities to observe and learn from big league players.
“I’ve picked up things from everyone, even from minor leaguers,” he said. “Todd Frazier, he just left, he was my boy. We had a good connection. … (And) I’ve asked new rookie guy, Adam Engel, how that (minor league) lifestyle is and how you’ve got to put in that hard work every day.”
Thomas hasn’t confined himself to baseball. He’s a gifted three-sport athlete for the Caravan, a longtime Chicago high school athletic powerhouse.
This past spring he hit .470 with 11 home runs and 43 runs batted in and was named Illinois Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year.
“Alek Thomas is the real deal,” Nick Hall, head coach at Wheaton-St. Francis High School, said as part of the Thomas announcement as top Illinois player. “No one in the state plays a better center field, and there’s no one who’s as complete a player.”
He was also the real deal in football. Last fall, Thomas threw threw for nine touchdowns, ran for 12 and caught five TD passes for Mt. Carmel.
Through it all he maintained a 3.84 grade point average.
Thomas has also made contributions outside of school, raising money to benefit inner city sports programs as well as volunteering to help fight childhood obesity.
He plans to keep playing football and baseball in 2017-18 and continue in both next year when when he enrolls at Texas Christian University.
“I’ve been doing three sports my whole entire life,” he said. “I don’t think there should be any struggle, there shouldn’t be any really except for the maturity level. The guys are bigger, they’re men out there playing football. It’s the same thing with baseball. It gets more elite as you get older.”
Baseball, however, appears to have the ultimate edge.
This weekend, Thomas is mingling with other top high school players from around the country during the four-day gathering and soaking up examples and advice and even dispensing some of his own.
“This is another stepping stone for me,” he said. “It’s a special event here. It’s always good to play against guys that are just like you, pitchers that throw gas, throwing hard and know how to pitch. It’s always a challenge but I like the challenge, I really step up.”
The Under Armour participants were selected by scouts affiliated with Baseball Factory, a baseball development firm. They were then divided into into 20-player National and American squads who will go head-to-head at Wrigley.
On Friday, they participated in joint drills and skills tests in front of dozens of Major League scouts at Northwestern’s Rocky and Berenice Miller Park.
Since the game’s inception, 284 of the 323 draft eligible players from the Under Armour game have been selected in the major league Amateur Draft, including 83 first round picks.
Most of Thomas’ peers are already committed to college baseball programs and many see that as an eventual springboard to a professional career.
Thomas hopes he might be among them and on his way to a major league future.
“Hopefully I’ll be in the big leagues,” he said. “That’s my dream, that’s always been my dream. Obviously school comes first, but in the next five years I hope to be with a team up there.”