Multi-talented Thomas Makea is the most complete player to don a Black Sox softball uniform, according to former national coach Mike Walsh.
“Thomas had it all,’’ Walsh once said. “Superb defence in the outfield and a great throwing arm. He was a power hitter who could also quickly adapt to the short game and was a wonderful and explosive base runner. He had excellent tactical awareness in all situations and a game winning attitude, regardless of what level he was playing in New Zealand or overseas.
“Thomas was the ultimate team member you wanted everyone else to emulate. His quiet yet ruthless attitude to perform to his ultimate best and yet get better at the highest level was contagious.’’
Hawke’s Bay-raised Thomas has set the standard for one of New Zealand’s most prominent softball families. His brothers Fabian and Campbell have played for the Black Sox, as has his son, Reilly Makea, while another son, Dante Matakatea-Makea, is in the Black Sox training squad. His niece, Mereana Makea, is a current mainstay of the New Zealand White Sox.
Thomas remains the family flagbearer, however, with a record-equalling four world championships titles and is the second most capped Black Sox with 143 international appearances in a near 20-year international career.
His love for the game began in his Hastings backyard where he and his siblings were drilled in softball fundamentals by their dad, Thomas Makea Sr.
Initially a pitcher, Thomas was good enough to hurl the Junior Black Sox to a world under-19 championships silver medal in Auckland in 1993.
That earned him an invite for a Black Sox tour of North America, but soon after he made a critical career decision.
Realising that the great Chubb Tangaroa, Marty Grant and Mike White were ahead in the pecking order, Thomas capitalised on his physical gifts to make the switch to a position player and a prominent place in the hitting line-up.
A talented shortstop at junior level, he gravitated to centre outfield – where he soon matched and then surpassed standards set by the late, great 80s star Jimmy Cotter.
Thomas had all the tools as a top order threat. He was a tough-out contact hitter who could also slam a home run over the fence, but he prided himself equally on his defence.
A gifted rugby player who played in the national provincial championship for Horowhenua-Kapiti, Thomas took an aggressive approach to hunting a softball in the outfield spaces or sliding into a base.
He became renowned for his ability to track a ball across the outfield, sometimes crashing into and over fences in a desperate bid to stop a rival’s hit from heading into orbit.
A three-time NZ player of the year (1998, 2005, 2006), he was one of the rocks of the Black Sox’s famed ‘three-peat’ squads of 1996, 2000 and 2004, and bowed out with a fourth world title (alongside his great friend Jarrad Martin) on home soil in Auckland in 2013.
As a 21-year-old in 1996 (and prouder wearer of the No 21 jersey he retained his entire career), Thomas forced himself into the starting line-up for the playoffs.
By 2000, he was as important to his team as captain Mark Sorenson, finishing top New Zealand batter at East London with a .480 average, 12 hits and 10 RBIs.
Makea (.448) was second only to Sorenson (.458) in 20004 in Christchurch where he starred in front of the Makea Family Stand in centerfield.
By 2013, he had moved from centerfield to leftfield, but was still a first-choice in Eddie Kohlhase’s run-on team.
Like so many Kiwi contemporaries, Thomas also lit up North American ball yards. Across 16 northern summers, he won four International Softball Congress (ISC) titles, was an All-World selection six times, and, in 2000 was tournament MVP with a .611 batting average and 10 RBIs.
His overseas swansong came in 2016 when he and son Dante helped the Toronto Gators win the ISC title, and Thomas was inducted into the ISC Hall of Fame.
In New Zealand, Thomas became a mainstay of the Poneke Kilbirnie driving them to many Wellington, intercity and national interclub titles.
While still in his playing prime, he took on player-coach roles, achieving ultimate success at club and National Fastpitch Championship level. Thomas coached as he played, always exhorting his teams to play a high-intensity, pressure-based game.
After retiring from the Black Sox, Thomas became Junior Black Sox head coach, guiding the national under-19 side to the silver medal in Canada in 2014 (their first trip to the podium for 17 years).
He steered the Juniors to another second placing in 2016 and bronze back in Canada in 2018 before ending with a fifth placing at the 2020 world championships in Palmerston North.
It would not surprise anyone if Thomas Makea – born to love the game – returned to an international coaching box in the future.