He’s D-back: Rookie Alek Thomas returns to South Side

His father, Allen, was the Sox’ longtime strength and conditioning coordinator before the team didn’t renew his contract last offseason.

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Alek Thomas hits a sacrifice fly in the second inning Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

After spending several summers chasing flies and taking batting practice at Guaranteed Rate Field wearing black and silver gear as a teenager, Alek Thomas patrolled center field Friday night in Sedona red as a member of the Diamondbacks.

This was a somewhat bittersweet homecoming for Thomas, 22, a dazzling two-sport star at Mount Carmel who has lived up to his billing as a second-round pick in the 2018 draft.

Thomas hit a sacrifice fly and made two diving catches to help lead the Diamondbacks to a 7-2 victory over the White Sox.

“That first at-bat definitely had the heart pumping,” said Thomas, whose bid for an extra-base hit turned into a sacrifice fly after left fielder Eloy Jimenez made a running catch. “So it was a good experience for me and my family. It was really cool. I made some good plays. It was pretty fun.”

Among the nearly 20 supporters watching Thomas was his father, Allen, a longtime strength and conditioning coordinator whose contract wasn’t renewed last winter after 27 years with the Sox’ organization.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” Thomas said before the game. “It’s tough because my dad is not over there. And I think that would have been a really cool moment to have him there. But he’ll be in the stands, and it will be cool to have him in the stands.”

The Sox made a change to “reimagine” that department, but injuries persist and negatively affect their chances of advancing to the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

In the meantime, Thomas is delighted that his father has more time to watch him and has moved from Chicago to Phoenix.

And Thomas hasn’t disappointed, going 5-for-14 in his last four games and ranking third among National League rookies with 77 hits.

Thomas described his return as “surreal,” recalling the times he arrived at the park at 12:30 p.m. for a workout, followed by a meal before shagging flies and taking BP.

His friendships with players — especially with Todd Frazier, Juan Pierre and Jim Thome — were “awesome.” The three-game series this weekend provided a chance for him to see a few players — Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson — who treated him well as a teenager.

“I never had necessarily a bad experience with anyone,” Thomas said.

The Sox gained notoriety for drafting the children of several employees. But Thomas was an exception even though he was ranked as the 57th prospect by Baseball America before the 2018 draft.

“I think they came to my dad and respectfully said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to take your son,’ ’’ said Thomas, who was a Sox fan but understood why they wouldn’t draft him.

“They should take a college pitcher.”

The Sox took Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal with the fourth overall pick but stunned Thomas by selecting Oklahoma outfielder Steele Walker with the 46th pick.

“Them drafting an outfielder [Walker] rubbed me the wrong way a little bit,” Thomas said. “But they told me they weren’t going to draft me anyway. It was funny to see that. I’m definitely grateful for the White Sox’ organization.”

A Sox source said the organization liked Thomas and is delighted for his success. But Thomas didn’t play well in the National High School Invitational during his senior season, and the Sox projected him as a third- or fourth-round pick.

The Diamondbacks took Thomas as the 63rd overall pick, and he made his major-league debut May 8.

Thomas robbed Abreu of a two-run double by making a diving catch in right-center to end the fifth inning.

“I got a good jump on it and almost didn’t have to dive,” Thomas said. “Speed took over and instincts. But I had a good read on it.’’

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