CHICAGO | He has heard it since he was a little kid.
He has seen it misspelled.
Good-natured Ako Thomas would just laugh.
"Teachers would say 'Ah-ko, Ay-ko and I would just smile and tell them how it was pronounced — 'Kayo'," said Thomas, sho plays baseball at Mount Carmel. "Then when someone hears it, they would spell it K-A-Y-O. It doesn't matter to me."
He had never heard of the 1960s drink "Kayo," but was was interested in finding out about it.
Maybe coach Brian Hurry will buy a case of it, if it can still be found, and use it to salute his second baseman if the Caravan repeat as Class 4A state champs.
"Ako is a modest kid, but he has played big for us all year," Hurry said. "In the field, big hits at the plate."
Thomas has three doubles and four RBIs in Saturday's Mount Carmel Regional championship win over Oak Lawn. The Caravan (30-7) face favored St. Laurence on Thursday in one semifinal of the Reavis Sectional. St. Rita takes on Lyons Township today in the first semifinal. The sectional has the same four teams as last year.
"We look for a tough one with St. Laurence," Thomas said. "They beat us twice this year and we have to be on our best (game) if we are to keep playing."
Thomas, a Michigan recruit, started playing baseball when he was 6 and played in the famous Jackie Robinson West Little League.
"I saw a flyer at my school and figured I would give it a try," Thomas said. "I fell in love with baseball."
He is hitting .433 with 13 doubles and 30 RBIs. He also has 23 stolen bases and has been caught just once.
"I try to get on as a leadoff guy and make things happen," Thomas said. "It all starts at the top and that is my job to get it going, get on, steal a base, have A.J. (Lewis), Jeremy (Houston), or Malik (Carpenter) or Scott (Kapers) drive us in."
Kapers said Thomas' smile and aggressiveness carry over.
"Ako sets the table, that is for sure," Kapers said. "He is always in a good mood and he loves coming to the ballpark everyday. That rubs off on us."