Opening Week: Thunderbolts Ready to Take on Gaithersburg Giants

Top-level college baseball returns to Silver Spring next week as the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts open their home schedule at Montgomery Blair High School on Monday, June 3, against the Gaithersburg Giants. (The team has free preseason games this weekend on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.)

Over the course of June and July, the T-Bolts will play 18 home games against opponents in the eight-team Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League, and they hope to build on a second-half surge last year that carried them into the playoffs.

“Every single player comes here to compete,” says Max Eckert, director of player development and founder of Wild Bill Sports, a youth baseball program. “If they’re on defense, they sell out to make a play. Pitchers want to win every matchup, and hitters relish the challenge.”

Many players have professional aspirations, and the summer is a chance to show what they can do using wood bats instead of metal alloy bats allowed in college. Every year, some players from the league are drafted by Major League teams. “It’s a bunch of 18 to 22-year-olds who are living out their dream of playing against top competition and chasing a bigger dream,” Eckert says.

Coming from across the country, players quickly bond with their teammates and become part of the local community. This year, about 10 players will live with host families for the summer, and numerous players will be counselors at the Thunderbolts baseball camps.  

The 2024 roster will include several hitters who starred for the team last year, thus giving it a solid foundation to build on. Amani Jones (Millersville University), who led the T-Bolts in RBIs last year, and Jonathan McMath (Marymount University), who was third, are back. The team also welcomes veteran .300 hitters Beck Urofsky (Cornell University) and Quincy Via (Marymount).

Eckert says the team will benefit from speed on defense and on the bases, with several players who this spring led their college teams and even their conferences in stolen bases.

As always, pitching will be the key to a winning season, and Eckert is encouraged by the number of hurlers on the roster as well as their talent. “Our pitching is deep. We have 18 arms right now, which is five more than last year, and we see some impressive velo[city],” he says.

Head Coach Brock Hunter adds, “It should be our best staff … since 2021,” citing the significant number of pitchers who can thrown 90 mph or higher.

Since he founded the team in 2000, Dick O’Connor has pursued dual goals of building community and being successful on the field. The players march in Takoma Park’s July 4th parade, and the league organizes a food drive and other volunteer activities. “The guys come here to play baseball, but it becomes more than that,” O’Connor says.

Being close to the action at Blair creates a memorable experience, O’Connor continues. “You’re right there, and it’s exciting,” he says, “And we keep it busy between innings with contests for kids, a raffle, and more.”

Eckert agrees—and he would know, having grown up in Takoma Park, attended the summer camps, and played on the T-Bolts, before return as a coach. “There’s a reason the Thunderbolts have been around for multiple decades, and it’s the contributions from so many people,” he says.

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