Former Bellarmine College Prep baseball star retires after colorful and well-traveled career

Former Bellarmine College Prep baseball star retires after colorful and well-traveled career

Eric Thames’ baseball odyssey, which started at San Jose’s Bellarmine College Prep and took him all over the globe — even landing him a spot on South Korea’s version of “The Masked Singer” — has reached its end.

“The day has finally come,” the 36-year-old Santa Clara native announced this week on Instagram. “In the year of our lord, twenty, twenty-three…HE GONE! I’ve been so blessed over these last 14 years to call baseball my job. The friendships that will last a lifetime, the memories that I’ll never shut up about (and those that I’m sworn to secrecy to take to my grave ).”

Thames played professionally (and homered) in five countries — South Korea, Japan, Canada and Venezuela as well as the U.S. — and played for seven MLB organizations. Thames was in spring training with the A’s a year ago as a potential replacement at first base for the recently traded Matt Olson, but never made it to Oakland to play for the team he rooted for as a kid. Thames opened the season in Triple-A but was released after 22 games.

The powerfully-built slugger — 5-foot-11, 235 pounds with tattoos all over his massive biceps and typically sporting a billowy beard — blasted 286 home runs at all his pro levels. It was a colorful career that included winning MVP honors in the Korea Baseball Organization and a run with the Milwaukee Brewers that saw him hit 72 home runs from 2017-19.

Milwaukee Brewers’ Eric Thames celebrates his two-run home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Monday, April 24, 2017, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

In his post, Thames thanked the fans from all of his various stops for, “supporting me all these years through the ups and downs. I’ll also add, thank you for supporting my plethora of facial hair styles (lol) from my Afro and sideburns to my Viking beard with beads. I did my best to honor my family name and entertain you all.”

Thames was popular wherever he played, but his electric personality, WWE look and tape-measure home runs elevated him to a folk hero during his brief, but electric, stops in South Korea and Milwaukee in the late 2010s.

Thames endeared himself to Brewers fans before he even took his first at-bat. Shortly after signing as a free agent in 2017, he told USA Today that “Milwaukee has great beer. I love beer.” So it was no surprise that late in the 2021 MLB season, while recovering from an Achilles tear that ended his stint in Japan, Thames brought down the house at Miller Park when he was captured on the video screen chugging a beer.

Thames, in his retirement announcement, also thanked his parents, who happened to be in the stands for his final professional home run on May 5 in Sacramento.

He wrote of his parents, “The two people that supported me ever since the day I decided I was too short for basketball.”

For a while, it didn’t look like baseball was going to work out, either. In fact, he once said he considered retiring in 2013, when he was just 26 and all his MLB options appeared to have been exhausted.

Thames made his big league debut in 2011 and hit .262 with 12 home runs in 95 games with the Blue Jays, but in short order his career path began to zig-zag, sending him from Toronto to Seattle to Baltimore and, eventually Venezuela. It was there, for winter ball, that Thames caught the attention of the NC Dions of the KBO. Thames used the fresh — and likely last — chance to reinvent himself as a player, and he became a sensation.

Thames batted .343 with 37 home runs and 121 RBIs in 2014, but was even better the following season, becoming the first player in KBO history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season. He hit .381 with 47 home runs and became the third foreign-born player to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player. In his final season in South Korea, Thames hit .321 with 40 home runs. He was so beloved in South Korea that in 2016 he was awarded honorary citizenship by Changwon city and his “cheer song” resonates with KBO fans to this day.

Thames returned to the U.S. and the majors in 2017 with Milwaukee and was an instant smash, hitting 11 homers in April, a sign the improvements he made in the KBO followed him back to the U.S.

Thames was All-League in both seasons he played at Bellarmine (as a shortstop) and then was named to the Northern California all-state team at West Valley Community College before starring for two seasons at Pepperdine. After batting .407 with 13 home runs for the Waves, and being named the West Coast Conference’s most valuable player, he was picked in the seventh round of the 2008 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.


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