- - Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Outfielder Lane Thomas, who seemed like an afterthought pickup at the trade deadline a few weeks back, is making a name for himself with the Washington Nationals.

The 26-year-old Knoxville, Tennessee, native — acquired when GM Mike Rizzo sent pitcher Jon Lester to the St. Louis Cardinals — has played his way into the Nationals‘ spotlight by hitting .304 in 14 games with Washington.

Being in the spotlight isn’t completely new for Thomas. He‘s been there for years in his hometown, where he played both high school and college ball. And beyond the diamond, he‘s a fixture in the local business community.

Thomas is the Knoxville King of Cabinets.

The outfielder is a partner in a successful cabinet company that he helped start, along with his sister Megan and partner Brian Davis. Thomas and Megan appeared on the October 2019 cover of the city magazine, “Everything Knoxville,” with a profile of their new business — Knoxville Cabinet Company.

“It was some good exposure early on,” Thomas said. “Knoxville is big but it’s also a small town. It was a good kick start.”

A high school star in Knoxville, Thomas was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the fifth round in 2014. He was traded to St. Louis in 2017.

In 2018, Thomas had his best professional season — 27 home runs, 88 RBI and 17 stolen bases between Class AA Springfield and Class AAA Memphis. When the season ended, Thomas went into the cabinet business.

“Luckily I don’t have to do much with it,” Thomas said. “I do what I can when I’m home. She (Megan) is the breadwinner when it comes to cabinets.

“I didn’t know a whole lot about cabinets before I got involved, “Thomas said. “I knew about the installation process and the construction side of things, but as much as building them, I still don’t know. I know the measuring and the ordering process because that’s what we do.”

But his sister said Thomas is an integral part of the business, from the Knox Cabinet startup to exploring a soon-to-be-opened flooring company. After all, the company logo appears on a home plate.

“Lane was crucial, as much as he could be while he was here, to go out and meet with contractors and builders and really educating them about our cabinet company,” Megan Thomas said. “He has been very helpful with us in researching new companies, working with our manufacturers to make sure the products that we are selling are quality products we can put our name behind. He can do that remotely while he is playing ball. Once the off-season is here, he can help us with the flooring company like he did with the cabinet company.”

First and foremost, though, Thomas is a ballplayer, and for the first time since that 2018 season, he has been healthy (after battling back from COVID-19 in 2020).

He‘s getting regular playing time in Washington. That time is likely to continue with Washington demoting centerfielder and former organization top prospect Victor Robles to Triple-A Rochester.

“It’s the opportunity that I’ve wanted for a long time, to play every day,” Thomas said. “If I have a rough game, I am not worried about not playing for 10 games or so. It’s been refreshing. The team is in a different situation than it has been in the past, but I think we have a lot of good young players who are getting a chance to play every day. I think it will be good down the road.”

Thomas was the Cardinals‘ ninth-ranked prospect starting the season. He was also recognized as the “fastest baserunner” and “best defensive outfielder” in the organization by Baseball America. Thomas appeared in 32 games for the Cardinals this season hitting .104 with one double, one RBI, 10 walks, two stolen bases and two runs scored.

“In St. Louis, we had a lot of guys who were pretty similar, and certain ones were getting more opportunities,” Thomas said. “I thought something (a trade) would happen because there wasn’t a need for six or seven of us in the outfield. But it happened late in the deadline and that caught me by surprise.”

He thinks the Nationals organization is a good place for young players.

“(Manager Dave Martinez) has been very encouraging, really incredible,” Thomas said. “He deals with young players really well. One thing I’ve noticed about this staff, it’s very encouraging to players.”

Does Thomas ever hit up the staff or teammates about buying cabinets?

“I’ve never sold to teammates directly, but we have with a couple of guys I worked out with back home,” he said. “I don’t have brochures in my locker to hand out.”
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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