Form can be fleet­ing, but also fun

Eric Thames’s run for the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers, as well as the suc­cess of the Colorado Rock­ies, have en­ter­tained base­ball fans and left them in­trigued

The National - News - Sport - - PREMIERLEAGUE -

Hot streaks are em­bed­ded in the fun­da­men­tal fab­ric of Ma­jor League Base­ball. One might even ar­gue that, from week to week, most play­ers and teams could be de­scribed as “hot” or “cold”.

When pros­per­ity lasts a month, though, there is an el­e­vated sense of in­trigue. Can this be for real?

Which brings us to Eric Thames, the out-of-nowhere slug­ger from the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers, and the Colorado Rock­ies, a team that have never won their di­vi­sion since they be­gan play in the Na­tional League in 1993.

Base­ball al­ways has early-sea­son sur­prises. Thames, with 11 home runs, and the over­achiev­ing Rock­ies are eas­ily this year’s April Anom­alies.

Thames, a first base­man, had brief, part-time stays with the Toronto Blue Jays and Seat­tle Mariners in 2011/12, be­fore slip­ping back to the mi­nor leagues in 2013. He seemed to be just an­other guy who came up short at the big league level.

From 2014 to 2016, Thames, 30, found him­self in a for­eign land – lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. Play­ing in the Korea Base­ball Or­gan­i­sa­tion, he be­came a power-hit­ting star. Over three sea­sons, he crushed 124 homers, cul­mi­nat­ing in a Most Valu­able Player tro­phy in 2016.

Mil­wau­kee be­lieved in his rein­ven­tion, sign­ing him to a three­year, US$16 mil­lion (Dh58.7m) deal, which, at the mo­ment, leads the “bar­gain of the year” con­tenders.

Thames said he learned how to be pa­tient as a hit­ter in South Korea. That is, he stopped swing­ing at bad pitches and en­tered the bat­ter’s box with a plan.

“It is amaz­ing when stress lev­els de­crease, you ac­tu­ally have fun and are able to re­lax,” Thames ex­plained re­cently.

It is not just the homers, which lead MLB. Thames is get­ting on base at a .489 clip, while post­ing a .904 slug­ging per­cent­age.

So, have the Brew­ers dis­cov­ered a late-bloom­ing All-Star? Or is Thames just in one of those in­ex­pli­ca­ble “zones” fa­mil­iar to ath­letes from bas­ket­ball to golf to darts, when ev­ery­thing just works?

We have a whole sea­son to find out.

Not that every­one wants to take Thames’s per­for­mance at face value. The sport still car­ries sus­pi­cions from the steroids era.

Af­ter a re­cent se­ries with the Chicago Cubs, dis­grun­tled voices from their club sug­gested Thames’s MLB do-over may be chem­i­cally fu­elled.

For his part, Thames al­ready has been ran­domly drug tested twice this month, say­ing he is happy to co­op­er­ate.

Al­most as big of a sur­prise are the Rock­ies. Slot­ted in the NL West with large-mar­ket pow­ers the Los An­ge­les Dodgers and San Fran­cisco Gi­ants, small­bud­get Colorado have a du­bi­ous his­tory.

The Rock­ies count a mere six win­ning sea­sons in 24 years, have made the post-sea­son just three times. They have not been in the play-offs since 2009.

Yet even af­ter be­ing swept 3-0 by the high-fly­ing Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als this week, Colorado are bat­tling atop their di­vi­sion, strangely com­pet­i­tive.

Their of­fence looks as good as ex­pected. Any team would gladly stack Nolan Are­nado, Car­los Gon­za­lez, Char­lie Black­mon, Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu through­out their line-up.

But Colorado’s of­ten-bat­tered and trau­ma­tised pitch­ing staff is far­ing well, too, so far. Per­haps pleas­antly ef­fec­tive rookie starters An­to­nio Sen­za­tela and Kyle Free­land will even­tu­ally suc­cumb to the de­mor­al­is­ing ef­fect of pitch­ing half their games in Den­ver, and sink to medi­ocrity, as their ro­ta­tion of­ten does.

Maybe newly ac­quired closer Greg Hol­land will have fewer chances to lock down vic­to­ries, and his 9-for-9 start in save op­por­tu­ni­ties will be­come ir­rel­e­vant as the sea­son plods on.

As we forge into May, we can ex­pect Thames and the Rock­ies to regress some­what. Per­haps they will col­lapse en­tirely.

But at least they had April, and made every­one won­der.

Dy­lan Buell / Getty Im­ages

Eric Thames of the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers is this year’s ‘April Anom­aly’ af­ter hit­ting 11 home runs so far this sea­son.

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