Long on confidence, talent

Baseball: C. Milton Wright junior John Thurston may come across as in-your-face, but he expects nothing less than the best from himself.

High Schools

April 06, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

C. Milton Wright junior John Thurston acknowledged that there have been several attempts aimed at getting him to loosen up a bit.

A couple of baseball coaches have hinted that he may want to tone down his act. Even an old gym teacher tried to send a message, prohibiting Thurston from playing dodge ball in eighth grade because "he was much too aggressive."

It didn't work.

The center fielder and pitcher, with a seemingly permanent game face, a no-nonsense, fiery style and unlimited confidence, has emerged as the leader of the 12th-ranked Mustangs (4-1). He is loud and in-your-face on the field and expects nothing less than the best from himself and his teammates.

"I strive toward being the best, and that's the only thing that keeps me going," Thurston said. "I try to work harder than everyone else and my intensity is always going. I take everything at 110 percent, no jokes. Why not do something as hard as I can?"

Thurston, a three-year varsity starter, has had that mind-set from the first day he arrived at the Bel Air school and was a part of the varsity team's plans.

A promising freshman campaign gave way to a breakout season last year in which Thurston hit .475 to go along with a .500 on-base percentage, 14 stolen bases, one home run and 24 RBIs.

This year, Thurston has gotten out of the blocks fast, going 9-for-18 with four doubles, two triples, nine runs and 10 RBIs while batting cleanup.

On the mound, Thurston has yet to give up a run in four innings of relief work.

"To put him on the mound when we don't have to, we feel is detrimental to our defense," said Mustangs coach Bryan Linz. "We have other guys who can play center field, but none like John."

Added junior infielder Caleb Cole: "If you hit it out there, you're most likely going to be out."

Thurston, whose 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash serves him well, has amazing range and a rifle-like arm, and perhaps takes the most pride in his defense. Thurston described the feeling of running down a fly ball as better than hitting a homer.

Thurston, 5 feet 10 and 180 pounds, will jump out of his shoes at the sight of a belt-high fastball, but he carries a more disciplined approach and can hit to all fields.

He has spent countless hours in the school weight room, both in and out of season, even arriving at school at 5:30 a.m. some mornings to get in his repetitions. The added muscle has helped him improve his bat speed and generate more power.

Along with playing year round on travel teams, Thurston takes 300 swings off a tee daily and often seeks the advice of Randy Kail, a scout who gives lessons at the Freestate Sports Arena in White Marsh.

Thurston said that he enjoys working with Kail "because he has the same intensity about hitting as I do."

"John will come in early, stay late and doesn't want to leave," Kail said. "He doesn't know how to quit, to shut down. He's got a burning desire to succeed at this game and advance to the next level. There's an intrinsic love for the game there and an enthusiasm that's second to none. I'd take 10 players just like him."

Not everybody feels that way. Thurston's demonstrative style on the diamond hasn't endeared him to other county coaches.

The term "dugout chatter" often takes on a new meaning with Thurston, whose voice often seems to rise higher than anybody else's when celebrating a teammate's achievement.

And when he's on base, the opposing pitcher will certainly know it.

"I keep my mouth running for the team, just to make sure everybody is awake and focused," said Thurston, who said that he tries to gain an advantage by getting in opponents' heads. "My teammates love it. They want me to get them fired up because that's when we have a better chance to win."

Said Linz: "To John, this is more than just a game. He treats it with respect, and he plays the way it's supposed to be played. He's the kind of player you love to coach and hate to coach against. Every team needs a spark, and he's ours."

Thurston's dream is to play in college and then possibly in the major leagues. The most likely scenario is Thurston playing for a solid junior college, which feeds into a four-year Division I program.

"I want to go to the big show [majors]," said Thurston.

An Orioles fan, Thurston reads about old-time baseball players, such as Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. His favorite is legendary bad boy Ty Cobb, who Thurston tries to emulate as much as possible.

"It's not really his `I don't care attitude,' " Thurston said. "He just wanted to be the best, and I think that's the right attitude."

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