On May 2, as the Binghamton softball team christened its new field, a beloved member of BU’s athletics community was honored. Doug Thomas, an employee at The Hungry Bearcat in the Events Center, threw the ceremonial first pitch. At the end of the school year, Thomas will be retiring after five years of working for Binghamton University Dining Services (BUDS).
“I was scared to death [to throw out the first pitch], nervous of course,” Thomas said. “Me and the two coaches went out the day before. I haven’t thrown a softball in many years — I was dying because I didn’t want to look like an idiot.”
Thomas, a city of Binghamton native, spent the first 33 years of his career working as a truck driver. After retiring from driving, he started working for BUDS and took over The Hungry Bearcat in September 2014.
The Hungry Bearcat, located in the Events Center concourse, is the go-to dining option for student-athletes on campus. While many students have never heard of it, athletes often eat there multiple times a day, and, usually, Thomas is right there waiting for them.
“I just fell in love with [the student-athletes],” Thomas said. “The sports, which I like anyway. I just connected to them. God knows I’m old enough to be some of their grandparents. They love me, and I love them. It’s a good feeling.”
When asked what his favorite BU sports team was, he refused to name one, comparing it to picking his favorite daughter.
“I enjoy all of the sports,” Thomas said. “If I’m not at the game, I’m online watching it.”
Since arriving on campus, Thomas has connected with student-athletes like few others. He knows nearly all of their names and also has a social media presence on Snapchat and Instagram.
“You’d be surprised by how many people ask me, ‘You have Snapchat and Instagram?’” Thomas said. “And I say, ‘Yeah, you gotta fit in down here.’ At the beginning, [the student-athletes] were showing me how to do [Snapchat filters], and I guess I was quite funny because I was doing it and I didn’t quite know what I was doing.”
Thomas uses Instagram to showcase his life during breaks in the school year. During the summer, he spends his time at a camp in Windsor, New York. He has three daughters and eight grandchildren, and is an avid New York Giants fan.
Of all of the memorable moments Thomas has had during his time at BU, he says that the most meaningful are at the end of the year, when saying goodbye to graduating athletes.
“Working the commencement and having student-athletes, the ones that are graduating, find me to say goodbye, means a lot,” Thomas said.
All of this affection for Thomas came to a front during the ceremony at the softball game.
“I was overwhelmed when I saw how many people showed up to see me do it,” Thomas said. “[The lacrosse team] left practice to come over. My students, they all wanted to go. A lot of my bosses came out. It was nice seeing everyone. It was just overwhelming.”
Thomas delivered a perfect strike to sophomore catcher Sara Herskowitz, and the crowd erupted into cheers in support of the lasting impact that he has left on the athletics department.
Although he will no longer be at the Events Center on a daily basis, Thomas has no intention to abandon the relationships he has made with the athletics community. He’ll be back next year for games, to support the Bearcats and to keep in touch.
“It’ll hit me come next semester when I’m not gonna come down here anymore,” Thomas said. “A lot of people don’t like to go to work. I love it.”