But two years later, things went sideways in the early morning hours on a bus ride in North Carolina.
Thurman, then a pitcher for the Carolina Mudcats of the Single-A Carolina League, was on a bus headed to a game in Myrtle Beach, S.C. when the driver misjudged her speed and missed a curve in the road. The bus hit a roadside ditch, skidded and flipped onto its right side.
Thurman, just barely awake at the time and seated on the driver’s side of the bus, was flung to the other side. He said he broke two ribs and damaged his right throwing shoulder in the accident and missed two months on the disabled list.
“I just wasn’t the same after that,” said Thurman, a two-time All-Big West Conference performer who threw a no-hitter and was 18-10 with a 3.19 career ERA in three seasons with the Anteaters.
Thurman was 4-2 with a 2.51 ERA in six starts before the accident, but won just one more game that season.
In 2016, he was 1-9 with a 7.55 ERA with two teams. He began the season with the Double-A Mississippi Braves, but was demoted to Carolina on July 20. After going 0-2 with a 7.55 ERA for the Mudcats, he was released on Aug. 18.
Thurman, who starred at Orange Lutheran High, returned home to complete work on his bachelor’s degree at UCI. While in class in the fall quarter, his phone displayed a message from Gabe Kapler, the Dodgers’ director of player development.
“I called him back and we talked for about 30 minutes,” Thurman said. “Then he asked for my agent’s contact info.”
The 6 feet 3, 225-pound Thurman, 25, signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers on Dec. 21 and spent spring training in Arizona with minor leaguers, working on a program to strengthen his arm and shoulder.
The work paid off.
“I started the spring throwing 88-89 mph and I’m up to 93-94 mph,” said Thurman, who was in Lake Elsinore through Thursday as a member of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers’ Single-A California League affiliate.
Since joining the Quakes, Thurman had appeared in two games through Wednesday. In his Quakes debut at home against Lancaster on June 17, Thurman struck out two and allowed one hit in a scoreless relief inning.
On Saturday at Lancaster, he threw another scoreless relief inning.
“I feel as healthy as I’ve been,” Thurman said before Tuesday’s game against the Lake Elsinore Storm. “When you get released, you realize that baseball can be taken away from you at any time. Every day you can play baseball for a living is a joy. There are thousands of kids who would love to be in this position. We get to put on our cleats and go out and have fun every day.”
When asked about his professional highlights, Thurman said he is still waiting to experience a memorable moment. But despite his struggles after the bus crash, he said he has always maintained the dream that has fueled him since he was in Little League.
“The reason we all do this is to be able to play major league baseball,” Thurman said. “When I was going out and walking five and six guys a game, I knew that wasn’t me. For me, I knew I had to tweak something with my mechanics and just get healthy to try to get over that hump.”
Thurman said he hopes to be a starting pitcher again, but is content for now to fill a relief role with the Quakes.
“You just do want to do the best you can, every time you can,” Thurman said. “It’s kind of fun coming to the park thinking you could get the ball that day. And after my strengthening program in the spring, I’ve hardly been sore at all.”