All American Game | Story | 9/3/2020

Jobe, Thomas feeling right at home

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Gray Thomas, Jackson Jobe (Perfect Game)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark sits right downtown here in Oklahoma’s capital city, and after a summer in which the local OKC Dodgers, the L.A. Dodgers Triple-A farm club, had their season erased by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 22-year-old brick-faced building was aching for some action.

Leave it to Perfect Game to fill that void. Through a cooperative effort with city officials, PG moved its 18th annual All-American Classic to Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark after the Padres’ Petco Park in San Diego became unavailable.

PG’s scouting department then proceeded to assemble two 27-man rosters stocked with the top prep prospects from the class of 2021 to provide the entertainment during Friday’s 3:30 p.m. Classic, which will be televised live on PerfectGame.TV.

Having done this for nearly two decades now, PG officials know that if you’re going to create national interest in a major amateur baseball event, it’s important to first get the local community behind the event.

They seem to have succeeded in that effort by making sure top OKC pitching prospects Jackson Jobe and Gray Thomas were included on the West Team roster. Coincidentally, Jobe and Thomas are also teammates/classmates at Heritage Hall High School.

The move was not a political one by any means, done only to arouse that local interest. Jobe, a 6-foot-2, 190 pound righthander with a 96 mph fastball, is an Ole Miss commit ranked the No. 15 overall prospect and the No. 5 righty in the class (Nos. 1/1 in Oklahoma); Thomas, a 6-foot-5, 205 pound righty with a 95 mph heater, is a TCU commit ranked Nos. 39/11 nationally and 2/2 in Oklahoma. These guys are good and they’re looking forward to the opportunity.

“I’ve got a bunch of people from Oklahoma coming to watch me on Friday, so it’ll be cool to kind of represent the city and play well for them, hopefully,” Jobe told PG during Thursday’s practice session at Chickasaw Bricktown. “Just being here is awesome and I’m super excited.”

Thomas feels exactly the same way: “When I found out it was in Oklahoma City I was super excited because I know that all of my friends are going to try to come to the game; they’re going to want to be here and show support,” he told PG on Thursday. “It’s just a great time.”

Jobe was born in Dallas so he is not an Oklahoma City native. His family moved here before his sophomore year in high school and he told PG that the move has “been treating me well.”

Like Jobe, Thomas is actually a Texas native having been born in Austin. He reports that his family has moved frequently, coming to Oklahoma City for the first time when he was an infant. They then spent several years in Chicago and Tulsa before moving back here when Thomas was in third grade.

He attended Casady School in OKC through his freshman year and transferred to Heritage Hall as a sophomore.

The Heritage Hall Chargers did get four games in (they went 4-0) this spring before the season was canceled. Jobe said it was disappointing that the season couldn’t be played out and he felt especially bad for the seniors. He called them “really good leaders” who had high hopes of challenging for an Oklahoma state championship in 2020.

Thomas was especially impacted, too, because he was forced to sit out the 2019 season after transferring in from another school.

“We thought we had a really good chance to win it all,” Jobe said. “We were getting ready to play (our fifth game) and then about 2 or 3 hours before game-time we got the call that we were shut down. It was really disappointing but I’m just looking forward to making the best out of it next year.”

Jobe spent this summer playing with Dallas-based Thrive Baseball and he, well, thrived with the program. He was part of the team that won the PG South World Series championship and earned all-tournament recognition with the same team that made it to the semifinals at the PG WWBA 17u National Elite Championship. Thrive Baseball is ranked No. 8 nationally in PG’s most recent 17u Travel Team Rankings.

“It’s cool playing with them because they’re not real high-profile guys but everybody comes ready to play,” Jobe said. “We’re a scrappy team and everybody plays hard, plays for the guy next to him. It was really cool to play with guys like that and it was an awesome experience.”

Although Thomas is appreciative of the level of play Oklahoma City-area high school baseball provides, he does feel it was important to get out and play at the big national PG tournaments with a high-end travel ball club, and he found that with Georgia-based Team Elite.

Even after the local high school season was shutdown, Thomas was able to join Team Elite for some tournament play in late May over in the Atlanta area. Those games proved to be a nice springboard into the PG National Showcase, held in mid-June in Hoover, Ala.

“It was a great time to get out there and really go play in a big event and get to show-out against the top players in the nation,” Thomas said of the National experience.

And not only being able to show-out against your peers but also making friends with your peers is what Thomas called a “huge deal.” The quality of the baseball being played is probably the biggest factor when it comes to playing travel ball but the friendships that are made and the experiences that are gained make it impossible to pass up.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of these guys so much better this past summer just playing baseball with them and it’s cool to see the relationships that you make with people,” Jobe said. “A year ago I didn’t know who any of them were, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Jobe and Thomas are the 15th and 16th players from Oklahoma to be invited to the PGAAC in its history, a number that includes a trio of Oklahoma City-area prospects who were at the game in San Diego last  year: outfielder Jace Bohrofen and lefthander Daxton Fulton from OKC, and shortstop Cade Horton from Norman.

Fulton was a second-round pick of the Marlins in the recent MLB Amateur Draft and signed with the club while Bohrofen and Horton are at Oklahoma of the Big 12.

“We have some guys in Oklahoma who are elite, so to say, just really good baseball players,” Jobe said. “We got to play against Cade’s team last spring and it was cool to see how many people he drew to the game. Playing with someone like that is awesome and hopefully I’m in the same position next spring; it’s been cool to be around all those guys.”

In an unfortunate development, Thomas won’t be able to throw in Friday’s Classic due to some inflammation that he’s developed in his arm. He’s frustrated by that, he said, because there’s really nothing wrong with his arm, but the adults in the room decided it would be best if he didn’t throw just to prevent  the possibility of an injury.

Although he won’t actually be playing, Thomas said it’s still going to be special to have all of his local friends come out to the ballpark on Friday. A lot of them aren’t really baseball people deep in their hearts so it’s his hope they just might become baseball people after witnessing the Classic. It really is that special.

“This is absolutely the best event that I’ve ever been a part of,” Thomas said. “Especially since it’s in Oklahoma City and it’s kind of like it’s the hometown for us. But it’s a great event and it’s something that I’ve had on my radar and that I’ve wanted to be able to do for a long time.”

Jobe and Thomas are roommates here this week so there was no need for introductions on that front. Both said they had a little trouble sleeping on Tuesday night before reporting to the hotel on Wednesday.

“I’m super-pumped to be out here on Friday for the game. I’ve played here in a few tournaments (before) but I think on Friday it’s going to be a lot different,” Jobe said. “Hopefully there’ll be a bunch of people here so it’ll be a lot different experience that what I’ve experienced in the past. It’s an awesome ballpark and it’s 15 minutes away from home so I couldn’t ask for a better spot to play at.”

PG Cares announces record fund-raising efforts this year

With the Classic moved to Oklahoma City this year, the Perfect Game Cares Foundation partnered with the Toby Keith Foundation OK Kids Korral in fund-raising efforts to benefit the PG Cares Rise campaign for underprivileged children and continued support for pediatric cancer research.

Before Wednesday night’s PGACC Welcome Dinner at the Sheraton Oklahoma City Downtown Hotel, PG Cares Executive Director Jennifer Ford stepped to the podium and announced some truly remarkable totals.

“Due to the COVID situation we knew the likelihood of fund-raising was probably going to be hindered; a lot of people are hurting, a lot of people are without jobs,” Jennifer acknowledged, speaking to the assembled players. As it turned out, every pre-event expectation was exceeded in record-breaking fashion.

Jennifer reported that 2019 All-Americans raised an event record of more than $78,000. This year’s All-Americans, despite the challenges they faced, through Wednesday night had raised more than $111,000; fund-raising will continue through Friday.

Wednesday’s tabulation showed that East Team members had raised $72,407 while West Team members had raised $30,602.

The top two fund-raising All-Americans will be recognized on the field before Friday afternoon’s Classic where they will be joined by singer/songwriter Toby Keith, former legendary Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and a host of former MLB players. The two players who raised the most money will receive autographed Toby Keith guitars to take home with them.

“Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts,” Jennifer Ford said. “These children are going to benefit because of all of your generosity and hard work.”

Perfect Game Founder/President Jerry Ford also briefly addressed this year’s All-Americans at the Welcome Dinner and reminded them they had indeed just become members of an exclusive fraternity.

“Over the years, this game right here, one out of three (former players) either becomes a first-rounder or plays in the big leagues,” he said. “One out of three of you guys sitting right here is going to play in the big leagues. I think we can almost count on that now.”

Ford lamented the fact that the restrictions put in place due to health and safety protocols required due to the pandemic prohibited this year’s players from participating in many of the unique events usually associated with Classic. But he also praised Oklahoma City officials for their efforts in assuring the game was played at all.

“The main thing is, we still got the best players in the country right here – that’s what the game’s really about and that’s what everybody’s going to see,” he said.

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