Many of the 5,501 announced in attendance at Hammons Field on Wednesday were children on field trips. Cody Thomas gave them a lesson to remember on power hitting.
The Dodgers prospect homered three times and finished 4-for-4 with five RBIs to lead visiting Tulsa to a 10-7 win over Springfield.
Video: Thomas delivers three home runs vs. Springfield
It was the second three-homer game of Thomas' career, following a hat trick for Class A Great Lakes on Aug. 3, 2017. The four hits matched a career high, last achieved on June 11, 2018 with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga.
Not bad, given the way the day started.
"I came out with a pretty poor batting practice and my hitting coach [Adam Melhuse] took me aside and tried to help me realign some things with my approach and my thinking," Thomas said. "It came down to the direction my thoughts were taking and getting back to a more left-center approach. Before that, I was pulling it too much, trying to get some power, but that usually just causes me to roll it over more. He kinda brought me back to center, so I have to credit him for that."
Batting eighth and playing right field, the left-handed-hitting slugger didn't take long to make the new approach work.
Gameday box score
His first blast came in the second inning when he hit a no-doubt solo shot on a 1-1 changeup from right-handed starter Casey Meisner. The long ball cleared the Missouri Department of Conservation sign above the 400-foot mark on the center field fence. Two innings later, Thomas pulled his second homer out to right-center on an 0-1 breaking ball from Meisner for a solo shot. His final dinger of the day, in the seventh, was even more productive -- a three-run shot to right on a 2-0 offering from right-hander Roel Ramirez.
None of those balls may have gone the other way, but thinking about putting the ball in that direction allowed Thomas to tap into his power.
"When I'm at my best, I'm hitting the fastballs to left-center and staying off the off-speed," he said. "Both the homers that went to right field were on off-speed [pitches], but the only way I was able to stay on them that well was because of the change in my thinking. I'm able to get on them better if I'm not trying to pull them."
Thomas also singled in the sixth and came around to score on a double by Dodgers No. 3 prospect Gavin Lux, giving him four of Tulsa's runs.
Playing at Double-A for the first time, the University of Oklahoma product struggled in his first 10 games, going 7-for-38 (.184) with 16 strikeouts. But the power was still there -- he had two homers, two triples and a .447 slugging percentage during that span, and Wednesday's performance further demonstrated Thomas' biggest offensive strength.
"There's definitely more mixing with pitches," the 24-year-old said of his transition to the Texas League. "It's really the first time I've had to deal with guys that can throw three different pitches, so you have to be ready for that in the first at-bat. In lower levels, too, you knew you were gonna get a fastball on a 2-0 or 3-1 count, and that's not the case anymore. It's why my approach is even more important here."
2019 Minor League milestones
Thomas is perhaps best known for being a former quarterback at Oklahoma, where he backed up former Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. He's shown promising signs of baseball development since the Dodgers took him in the 13th round of the 2016 Draft. The outfielder is coming off his best professional season, earning California League end-of-season All-Star honors after hitting .285/.355/.497 with 61 extra-base hits, including 19 homers, in 127 games with Rancho Cucamonga. He's hit at least 19 long balls each of his first three seasons in the Los Angeles system, although his strikeout rate (29.2% last year) has been an issue.
Thomas will continue his adjustments to address those contact issues and tap more into his power. As for where Wednesday ranks among his all-time athletic accomplishments, he'll need more time to figure that out.
"Oh, I don't know yet," he said. "I haven't thought too much about that just yet. We've got 140 of these things and we're only getting started, so I'll look back on it later."
The Drillers totaled six homers, with Lux, Jared Walker and Zach McKinstry also going deep on a day the wind was blowing out to left field at 17 mph. The Cardinals went deep three times, with Scott Hurst, Shane Billings and Chris Chinea clearing the fences.