It’s been a good weekend for recent College World Series stars at Werner Park.
On Friday, former Florida infielder and Mets prospect Peter Alonso homered as Las Vegas topped Omaha. A day later, it was first-round pick Matt Thaiss from Virginia sparking Salt Lake to a victory.
The Bees first baseman, a catcher when he helped the Cavaliers to the 2015 national championship, broke a scoreless tie with a two-run single in the fifth inning of Salt Lake’s 4-3 win Saturday night.
The PCL series opener was the first game in Omaha for Thaiss since he hoisted the NCAA trophy at TD Ameritrade Park. Virginia was eliminated in a regional in 2016, his final college season.
“It’s a little different,” Thaiss said. “We’re a little ways from downtown, but it’s definitely cool to be back here. Obviously, it’s a lot different situation. But it’s always a good time here.
“It was only three years ago, and it’s hard not to talk about it when you come into town. It’s memories that you don’t forget.”
Selected No. 16 overall in a draft that featured fellow CWS alums Corey Ray (Louisville), A.J. Puk (Florida) and Zack Collins (Miami), Thaiss shifted from behind the plate as a pro. He quickly climbed the ladder in the Angels system and was ranked as the organization’s No. 8 prospect.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “Everywhere I’ve been — Burlington, Orem, Mobile or here — there’s been a great staff there. It’s made everything easy. We have a great staff and coaches. And we’ve got a great clubhouse.
“The minute you walk in the door, you feel welcome. That makes it easy to play.”
Thaiss, promoted to Triple-A earlier this season, is batting .282 with Salt Lake after his 1-for-4 night Saturday. With two runners on, he drove a pitch from Zach Lovvorn (1-6) into right field.
The Storm Chasers got a run back in the bottom of that inning, when Luis Villegas homered off Luis Pena (4-3). The Bees extended their lead, however, with two runs off reliever Sam Selman.
Omaha battled back to pull within a run when reliever Williams Jerez allowed two runs on wild pitches in the eighth. The lefty escaped the jam by getting Donnie Dewees to ground into a double play with the bases loaded. Jerez then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to save the win.
Chasers manager Brian Poldberg said he considered pinch-hitting in that lefty-on-lefty scenario, but elected not to because Cam Gallagher had back stiffness and Dewees was coming off a four-hit Friday.
“We had a couple of opportunities where a hit here or there makes a difference,” he said. “We didn’t hit the ball real well. Two runs came on wild pitches. The guys battled to the bitter end to give us a chance.
“You’re always disappointed when you don’t score with the bases loaded and one out.”
Omaha first baseman Frank Schwindel singled and doubled while extending his hitting streak to 12 games. He ranks second in the PCL in extra-base hits and third in total bases. His 72 RBIs lead all Kansas City minor leaguers. But it was Ryan O’Hearn, not Schwindel, who was just promoted.
“That’s a hard thing,” Poldberg said. “(Hitting coach Brian Buchanan) talked to (Schwindel), and I’ve talked to him. That’s something you can’t control. The only thing you can control is what you do out there. … It’s hard to do after that. In your mind, you’re like ‘It could’ve been me.’ It wasn’t at this point.”