Rain Only Delays Derek Thompson

<b>VERO BEACH, Florida</b>--The Dodgers told Derek Thompson that the was going to get in some innings in the second exhibition game of the season against Atlanta, March 3. Naturally enough, Derek, a Florida native called his family who live near by in Tampa, obtained tickets for them as they drove across the peninsula to witness him in action.

And that was a thought that distressed him as he dressed for the game. ‘‘They just told me I might not get in today, " he lamented. "It was too late to call my family so they're here. Hopefully, I might but I don't know."

Alas, he didn't even get to warm up as everyone in the place sat huddled as a cold rain started falling in the early innings and continued until the contest was finally called in the eighth.

It was thus advisable for the Thompson clan to show patience. Certainly, it's something the Dodgers have done in their efforts to get him on the mound in an L.A. uniform.

That was first needed when he graduated from Lake O'Lakes High, a three-time all-state selection, for they had him on their draft list as a possible second-round selection. He didn't make it that far, though, being chosen by the Indians as a supplemental choice at the end of the first round.

He demonstrated that gifted left arm from the get-go but in the second game of his second season, he blew out a knee. An operation was needed in which a ligament from a cadaver was grafted on. It was successful so he resumed his career in 2002 where in two stops he had an overall 5-7 record but chalked up 91 strikeouts in 147 innings.

He had become draft eligible since he was 19 when he signed but the Indians left him in the minors hoping his relative inexperience would cause other clubs to shy away. The Dodgers, however, had other plans but here again, they were drafting back in the pack and had heard that Thompson might be taken away again before their chance came.

So, they engineered a deal, the type of which is fairly common on draft day. In this case, the Cubs, who weren't planning on taking anybody and who were near the front of the selection line, agreed to pick Thompson, then promptly sold his contract to L.A.

Now, he was a Dodger but the next spring before he could get into action, his elbow went out. Another operation, one that placed him on he disabled list for the entire season, a Dodger in name only.

He was still under the Rule 5 stipulation that he must have so much time on the active list or be offered back to Cleveland. However, when December 20, 2003 came, Los Angeles declined to offer him a contract for the coming season, thus making him a free agent.

That was part of a pre-arranged deal. As Derek explains it. "They told me they still wanted me and would sign me to a minor league contract (another common practice). It turned out under the rules, they weren't allowed to do that until March 15 so, really, I was a free agent and could have gone elsewhere. But I wanted to get this over with, not spend the winter wondering what kind of a deal I would get. They promised me I'd start in AA and that's what I wanted so I agreed."

Thus it was that on March 15, 2004, Thompson again signed with the Dodgers but this time as a minor leaguer, no longer under the Rule 5 restrictions. This allowed him to be sent to Jacksonville where he repeated what had occurred in his pervious three as a Cleveland chattel -- a losing record (5-7), a not-bad ERA (3.75) and glowing scouting reports about his potential.

Most pitchers coming off serious surgery have uneven seasons and Thompson was no exception. "I had some good streaks but there were some times when I got tired. They shut me down for awhile on two occasions and there was one time when I had to back off to recover. I did get in 119 innings so at the end they shut me down and told me not to pitch winter ball."

Now, he feels fit to take a regular turn, one that he would love to be in Los Angeles but doesn't expect. "I realize I'm a long shot to make the team. I would be nice but what I think will happen is that I'll move up to Las Vegas, pitch there and get ready for the call I hope will come."

In the meantime, there was that delayed debut in a Dodger uniform which happened one day later than originally planned. That was in Orlando against the Braves when he threw the ball well, was undermined by his defense somewhat and wound up yielding one unearned run in two innings.

All in all, pleasant enough for Derek and his family, well worth the wait.

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