Thompson enters 13th season in pros
BY CONOR FOLEY
CLEARWATER,Fla.- Rich Thompson knows things could have been easier.
Growing up with the short baseball season in Montrose, the speedy Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer didn’t have the amount of opportunities to refine his game that other recruits from warmer climates might have had.
Now, Thompson has seen the other side.
Living in Florida, the 32-year-old Thompson watched his 7-year-old son have the opportunity to play year-round baseball at age 6, and he’s seen the amount of attention that high schoolers in the area receive.
But it’s not for him.
Thompson enjoyed the opportunities that playing seasonal sports, including football, basketball, skiing and golf, gave him, and he thinks it might be the right way for young athletes to develop.
“(Playing year round) it’ll make you a better baseball player, but ultimately, most kids aren’t going to be professional baseball players,” Thompson said. “I think my career could have certainly turned out a lot differently if I had grown up down here, being able to really refine my game at the high school level that would have made all the difference in the world.
“But most people it doesn’t matter. You’ll be a better high school player than the high school player from Montrose, but you never would have gotten to play any other sport. And most people, that’s where it’s going to end is in high school.”
Thompson said he even wishes he played more football in high school, and he may have were it not for a coach who told him he was too small.
“But if you’re running a 4.2, that probably would have been pretty good, if I was like an option quarterback,” he said.
Still, Thompson realizes the disadvantages kids in short-season regions have, and luckily, his best skill didn’t need a large sample size to get noticed.
“I just had one of those plus tools in my speed that allowed me to go on to college, and from college to pro ball,” he said. “But it’s hard from that area to get recognized, get drafted, as a guy that can kind of do everything. You really have to have something that stands out.”
Thompson’s speed helped carry him to one of his better offense seasons last year with the Triple-A affiliate Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs inAllentown. The outfielder posted his highest slugging percentage (.408) since 2007 thanks to his ability to take the extra base, his 25 doubles were a career high, and his 48 stolen bases were the most since 2005, when he stole 58.
“Approaching the halfway mark, I started getting a little bit more aggressive, started driving the ball a little bit better,” Thompson said. “But I had a manager in (Ryne) Sandberg who really liked to make things happen and that played to my strengths.
“I’ve had a lot of years where I’ve been going pretty well in August, and you don’t always finish strong, but I thought this was a good year.”
Thompson is entering the 13th season of his professional baseball career, and his goals are still the same.
“I’ve never been a big numbers guy – I’ve always liked to get 40 stolen bases,” he said. “But you try to just keep improving. There’s always things to improve on.”