Eric Thames is a fun-loving, weight-lifting, beard-growing, truck-driving, yoga-practicing, Avengers-obsessed potpourri of a man. Oh yeah, and he plays first base for the Washington Nationals.
There are few things that Thames can’t do. So it should come as no surprise that the left-handed slugger once emerged as a surprise contestant on the South Korean equivalent of “The Masked Singer” after spending three years in the Korea Baseball Organization.
Appearing on “The King of Mask Singer” last offseason, Thames busted out his rendition of Stevie Wonder's “Isn't She Lovely” before singing — in only slightly less-than-perfect Korean — the song “Americano” originally released by Korean duo 10cm.
He sat down with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas for the Nationals Talk podcast and reflected on his moment in the spotlight.
“Preparing for that was definitely uncomfortable, to say the least,” Thames said. “I’m not afraid of being uncomfortable…but I had to go to a singing coach. He taught me different techniques about your posture, your breathing — like diaphragm breathing, I didn’t know what any of that was. But it’s definitely a unique experience.
“I was battling a K-pop guy who could belt notes like no other so I’m there just like I’m singing karaoke, [voice] cracking, but it was fun.”
The performance only added to Thames’ well-established Korean fame. He won MVP as a member of the KBO’s NC Dinos in 2015 after hitting 40 home runs, stealing 40 bases and winning the league batting title with a .381 average. His success overseas helped him land a three-year, $16 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers that stretched until this winter.
LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST
Thames now joins a Nationals roster that rode an exuberant clubhouse culture all the way to a World Series title. With Gerardo Parra, the face of that clubhouse personality, having departed for Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, there’s an opening for a player such as Thames to inject the energy into the clubhouse that it rallied around last season.
While Thames doesn’t expect to be singing his way into endearing himself to his teammates, he looks back on his performance as a fun experience.
“We recorded it and I had to wait probably like 25 days, so I couldn’t say anything. I had to keep it a secret,” Thames said. “I remember I flew with my buddy to London and we’re at the airport, getting on the shuttle, going to the hotel and he’s like, ‘Hey dude, the thing’s going to air in like 20 minutes,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, here we go.’ Sure enough it aired and my phone blew up. All my friends like, ‘Ahh, I didn’t know.’ It was cool.”
Even though Thames is someone who thrives in situations that make him uncomfortable, pulling off that mask and seeing the cheering audience around him was a moment he won’t soon forget.
“It was easier with the mask on,” Thames said. “It’s like singing in the dark. Nobody can see you, but when the mask is off it’s like all right, just let it all hang out there.”
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