Off the sidelines: Thomas Yoder, Green Hope

Off the sidelines: Thomas Yoder, Green Hope

CorrespondentMarch 26, 2014 

Green Hope’s Thomas Yoder tags out Holly Springs’ Ryan Byrd in a 2013 regular season game that Green Hope won 6-5.

CHRIS BAIRD — newsobserver.com

— Green Hope catcher Thomas Yoder’s sport is baseball, but if the late Vince Lombardi had lived in the Twitter age, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach probably would have wanted Yoder on his football team.

Yoder’s Twitter profile reads: “God, Family, Baseball in that order.”

Lombardi, for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named, lectured his players on their priorities with this aphorism: “Your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers – in that order.”

Yoder, seated on bleachers behind Green Hope’s backstop, looked up with a smile as he heard Lombardi’s words.

“I never heard that before – I love that,” he said. “I could have played for him.”

Yoder is about as old-school as it gets for a 21st century high school athlete.

He first strapped on the cumbersome equipment of a catcher as an 8-year-old. He liked the action-hero look.

With time, though, Yoder learned why catchers wear “the tools of ignorance.” The origin of the phrase, according to the dictionary, refers to “the notion that a smart athlete would not play such a grueling position.”

That’s wrong on both counts for Yoder, who welcomes the dirty work and is about to graduate with a 4.9 grade point average.

“You have to be thinking to play catcher,” he said. “You start every play because you tell the pitcher what to throw. How many guys want to get in front of a ball and take it off their chest? I take pride in it. I like saying I saved a run when I take one off the body.”

Yoder was a 4A all-state pick last season when he batted .412 with 26 RBIs and 12 doubles. Through six games in 2014, his on-base percentage was .500 and batting average .450.

His four-year varsity career average (he’s been a three-year starter after he shared playing catcher as a freshman) is .361, and his career on-base percentage is .461.

Green Hope coach Mike Miragliuolo, who is in his 20th year as a high school head coach and 13th with the Falcons, said Yoder has been a coach on the field. He brings up the team huddles, and he runs some drills in practice.

“In all my 20 years, I’ve never been around a better leader,” Miragliuolo said. “He works out a lot and he helps other kids. A lot of kids only practice when they’re in uniform or when they’re with a private coach, but he’s out here all the time. He takes advice. I told him he needs to hit the weight room, and he’s been in the weight room. He sets a great example for the other players.”

Yoder, who has added 10 pounds from last year to tip the scales at 200 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame, has drawn limited interest for the Major League Baseball draft from Atlanta, Chicago and Tampa Bay. But he’s committed to attend college before he takes a shot at pro baseball.

He originally desired to play ACC ball, but he committed to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., upon learning head coach Jim Toman, a former North Carolina State catcher and assistant coach, is known for developing catchers.

The commitment was sealed in Yoder’s mind when Liberty earned an NCAA tournament bid. The Flames defeated Clemson twice in the South Carolina Regional before Liberty was eliminated by the host Gamecocks.

“I feel I still have a lot of room to improve,” Yoder said. “I’ve never really worked with a true catching coach. I want to take my baseball career as far as it can go.”

That’s for his future. He’s already taken his game and priorities back to an era that satisfies old-school coaches.

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