This article appears in the April 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Aaron Thompson bagged the biggest buck of his life during this past Christmas vacation, and he did it while quail hunting.
If that seems a little odd, well, it is.
Thompson, who's been a hunter ever since shooting his first deer as a 7-year-old, was cruising the Hebbronville property his family bird hunts on every winter when he spotted two whitetail deer in the distance beyond a pair of above-ground fuel tanks. He disembarked the hunting party vehicle, shouldered his shotgun, hauled his 7 mm rifle out of the trunk and stalked down his prey.
"Hunting is a lifestyle for us," says Thompson, a senior at Second Baptist School and the top-rated left-handed pitching prospect in the nation according to SchoolSports.com. "Since my first deer, I've got one or two every year since."
For the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Texas A&M recruit, hunting isn't so much about the kills as it is the quality time. Thompson says he enjoys looking at whitetails through a camera lens as much as through a hunting scope. He says hunting is a means to an end. It represents a slice of serenity in his increasingly frantic world.
"To be out there with family and friends and get away from school and baseball and all the pressures, well, you can't put a price on that," says Thompson, who turned 18 on Feb. 28. "Let's just say, cell phones don't work out there."
Thompson has good reason to seek a little anonymity now and then. Ever since going 9-1 with a 0.53 ERA and a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio to lead the Eagles to the TAPPS Class 4A state title last year, he's had a lot more to handle than a few extra phone calls.
A three-time All-State selection who is rated the nation's No. 16 prep baseball prospect in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, Thompson is a projected early-round selection in June's Major League Baseball Draft. And it shows.
"It's so weird to think about how different life is from last year to this year," says Thompson, who started for Beaumont Kelly during his first two years of high school before relocating to Houston as a junior. "In Beaumont, we might get one or two juco scouts at a game. At one of our preseason games this season, we had 30 pro scouts. The key is, I haven't changed. The little sister of one of my teammates came up to me the other day and asked, ‘Are you going to be famous?' And I said, ‘I have no idea. I'm just your brother's friend.'"
Fact is, nobody knows whether Aaron Thompson is going to be famous. But he does have all the tools.
"In Aaron's case, he had a lot of pieces of the puzzle when he got here," says Second Baptist 16th-year head coach Jeff Schroeder. "We just refined a lot of things. I say ‘we,' but Aaron has taken ownership of that. He's got a great appetite for the game. He works in the high 80s to low 90s, and he's got a nice fluid delivery with great movement on his fastball."
Of course, Thompson's junior season wasn't the first time his play got him noticed.
As a 12-year-old, he pitched his Beaumont All-Star team into the sectional round of the Little League World Series, where Beaumont emerged from the loser's bracket and beat a loaded Orwall team with an eight-inning spellbinder from Thompson. Though Beaumont was later ousted from the double- elimination tourney by Orwall when Thompson was touched for a walk-off home run in the ninth inning, he'd already made a strong impression.
After the game, the Orwall coaching staff asked Thompson to come play for The Woodlands Thunder, a now-defunct select team coached by former major league pitcher Doug Drabek.
"That's when I realized there was a lot more opportunity to play at a young age," says Thompson, whose family moved to Texas from New Mexico when he was 2. "I basically got to play on a neighborhood team that played the best teams in the country, and I did that every summer until high school. It was all these kids from Oak Ridge and Woodlands, and one kid from Beaumont — me."
Even after several years with the Thunder, Thompson was by no means a finished product when he reached high school. Heck, Schroeder still chuckles when remembering how raw the kid was at the start of his junior season.
"It was clear he was gifted, and he had the good size and the big body, but he was rushing like crazy," recalls Schroeder, who has guided the Eagles to the state finals three of the past six seasons and to the state semifinals six times overall. "He was like a freight train on his way to the plate, and he didn't have much control. But he cleaned all that up. He's got a nice consistent delivery that he can repeat every time."
The numbers don't lie. Thompson struck out 146 batters last year against just 37 walks to win district MVP honors for the second straight season (the first came as a sophomore at Beaumont Kelly). He also excelled at the plate and in the field as an outfielder and first baseman, hitting .339 with four home runs and 36 RBI in 115 at-bats.
The key to his success, Thompson reiterates, is that he hasn't changed.
"I think people expect me to be arrogant or cocky," says Thompson, who was a freshman when his older brother, Will, was a senior catcher at Beaumont Kelly. "But when you play in these big national tournaments, you realize very quickly that you're not the only decent player and that the other guys out there are the same as you."
That realization has helped Thompson remain humble despite the hype.
"The pitcher is only one player on the field, and it's not just me out there," he says. "I've got eight guys behind me. And it's only because I have them behind me that I get any attention. I'm not playing for Aaron Thompson. I'm playing for Second Baptist and a second championship."
With another state title in mind, Thompson is downright maniacal about not getting ahead of himself. Especially in the face of all the talk about him possibly becoming an early-round MLB draft pick.
"I've got the pitches, but now I need to go develop a mental ability to deliver on and off the field," he says. "I've got to keep perspective and make good decisions. I will do what it takes not to rush myself before becoming a Major League Baseball pitcher. Being drafted is just step one on the road to the ultimate goal. There is temptation and the potential to make mistakes at either the college or pro level. I've got to stay focused."