Jake Thurston, only 5-foot-8, is often still the tallest person in the room.
With 12 regular season games and a possible Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament run left in his career, the senior shortstop doesn’t care about his high .300 batting average or the fact that he’ll more than likely break into the top 10 all time in at bats in MSU Denver school history.
“I used to be a little more intense,” he said. “This year it’s been a big calling that being more relaxed and enjoying the games, I mean only a few people get to do it.”
Thurston has been a mainstay in the Roadrunner lineup for almost his entire college career, dating back to 2013 when he started in 10 games his freshman year despite missing time with a broken nose. He’s now made over 120 starts, providing stability and consistent production at a premium position for head coach Jerrid Oates.
“The offensive side of it has definitely clicked,” Oates said. “In years past he was in for his defensive glove and whatever we got offensively from him was a plus. This year, he put in his work and his time and he’s really become an all around frontline player for us.”
Thurston has blossomed into a .370 hitter with solid power to pair with his defensive work. But to him, the success is simply an added bonus. He came to MSU Denver because he would be able to contribute right away and just play the game, even with his older brother Tyler, another stocky middle infielder, suiting up for RMAC rival Adams State, spawning an intense subplot when the two teams met.
“The first time we played each other, we both hit a homerun in the same inning,” the younger Thurston said. “It was a fun experience to get to do that with my brother and have my family be there to watch. It was really cool to say ‘If he does good, I won’t mind it but I still want to win this game.’ It’s going to be something I cherish forever.”
The two are just the latest in a family of baseball players, whose roots’ in the sport run deep. Their sister Stephanie played softball at Bethany College and their father Bill played at Trinidad Junior College. Their uncle Danny Jackson was a 15 year MLB veteran, winning two World Series and finishing second in the 1988 American League Cy Young Award. But even in a family that has seen success at high levels, Thurston is making a name for himself as one of the most important players in Roadrunners history.
Thurston’s work ethic, which has earned him an all-RMAC honor roll and two Athletic Director’s honor rolls off the field, profile and play all invoke images of a young Dustin Pedroia or Jose Altuve. Despite not having the same leverage in his body as his 6-foot and higher teammates, his training has given him a strong throwing arm, ballet-like footwork and a swing with power to all fields.
“I don’t really have the size so I think the strength part is really important,” Thurston said of his offseason work. “I really gotta pound it out in the summer because I know I am going to lose it in the fall.”
Currently, Thurston stands at 473 at bats in his MSU Denver career, putting him less than 30 away from a milestone 500. In a collegiate atmosphere where a season is just shy of 50 games and roster turnover is as sure as death and taxes, nearly three full seasons of contribution is proving to be a historic achievement.
“It’s pretty amazing to see someone have that leadership quality four years straight,” senior pitcher and outfielder Derek Stimpson said. “He’s a persistent, hard worker, he’s always there, always has a smile on his face and he’s ready to work when the time comes. You just know that he’s going to show up and want to play and have fun and do his best.”
Thurston’s best has led the Runners to a thrilling conclusion in his final season. As he wraps his playing career up and begins to look toward a life in sport management, he’s come to treat baseball as the game that it is, enjoying every at bat and teammate. He’s learned to maintain his competitive edge and drive while still understanding it for what it is.