Sean Thompson doesn't act like one of the top prospects in the Padres organization. When I first call him I get his voicemail, and elect to not leave a message. Doesn't matter, about an hour later my phone rings and it's Thompson, saying, "Someone called me from this number." We setup the interview for the next day, and again, when I call there's no answer. This time I leave a message, and less than five minutes later my phone rings and Thompson is apologizing, "Sorry, I was in the bathroom shaving. Of course, that's when you call. I'm sorry." He's fun, laughing all the time, he's all about his family and his girlfriend. That night there is a party, and Thompson and his girlfriend are going to attend. "I'm going with her, but I don't think we're going to be out late, it's just sort of a going away thing, and I'm not really into getting drunk and everything, so we'll just make an appearance.
MadFriars.com: When you turned pro you started with a bullet, getting better each year. Were you disappointed that you didn't get promoted in 2004, and the Padres chose to leave you in Low-A?
Sean Thompson: Sure a little part of me was disappointed, I'd been moving so quickly it was a little discouraging to see other guys move up and me not get the call, but you can't worry about that. When you start looking around and watching who's moving and wondering why you're not, that's when things really start to pass you by.
MadFriars.com: You seem to get better as the game goes on. Is that a 'getting loose' thing, is it in game adjustments?
Sean Thompson: When I play the game...well...I'm not really sure. I mean, I'm loose when I start, but I think maybe adrenaline is flowing and stuff. Some pitchers go off the scouting report, I do that too, but some pitchers that's the way they throw. They pitch to the hitter's weaknesses. I like to see what they hitters can do against my stuff, I like to challenge guys. The thing is I'm not going to get beat on my second best pitch just because the scouting report says that's what I should be throwing.
MadFriars.com: Many feel you have the best curveball in the Padres system, and I've even heard the dreaded 'Barry Zito' comparisons, is that a lot of pressure?
Sean Thompson: I think Zito's awesome, his curveball is kinda slow, but it breaks from the top of your head down to your ankles, so you can't argue with that. I've heard comparison's all my life. I was out in Lansing and there are people screaming, "You'll never be a [Mark] Prior!" and I'm thinking, of course not, but I'll be in the bigs. I've always been compared to people, and I've always been heckled. Back in high school I was the person to be heckled. I let my emotions show, I have chip on my shoulder. I mean, in high school I kinda had a bad attitude.
MadFriars.com: I've never heard that.
Sean Thompson: If I walk couple guys, and you're across the street at a gas station, you'll hear me screaming. Its not a bad attitude like I'm a bad team player, but all my life when there were guys who were better than me, I worked to get better than them. And when I'm on the mound I really believe I'm better than them, and I take that attitude out there. In high school I used to walk behind the mound and draw a big line in back of the mound for every strikeout I'd get. And I don't do that anymore, but I still have that attitude. It's an intimidation thing, I mean, I'm 5-foot-10", what am I going to do, blow it by you? So I try to get in guys heads.
MadFriars.com: You're just 22, left-handed, an inning eater, with a great change and curve, how high is your ceiling?
Sean Thompson: Plus, I picked off over 20 guys last year, and the scouts and coaches have told me that holding runners is big. If I keep my mouth shut and my feet moving, give me a 12 year Major League career. I'm ready mentally, I just need to be moved up, I just need to get the chance. I'm on my way.
MadFriars.com: What specifically are you doing to work on the command of your fastball? Is it mechanical, mental?
Sean Thompson: It's me trying to overthrow, and it's me trying to think too much. The last eight games I went through five or six innings on just my fastball. I used to be afraid to go that many innings without throwing my other pitches. The coaches told me to just throw the fastball, just locate, and I did that and made it through half the game without even throwing the curve or the change.
MadFriars.com: And then you'd drop the other pitches on them? That's not fair.
Sean Thompson: Yeah, I haven't ever laughed in pro ball. Not on the mound. But when I go through the lineup twice just throwing the fastball and these guys are coming up the third time around and I drop my hook on 'em sometimes it's hard not to laugh when I see the look on their face. But that was a good experience for me, because I realized I can throw the fastball, and spot it, and it doesn't have to be perfect every single time.
MadFriars.com: Are you excited, nervous, what are you're feelings going into '05?
Sean Thompson: Truthfully, I hate to run. I hate Spring Training, I always have. But this year I'm excited about it, because I know I'm one step away. I really hope I get to start in Double-A this year, because I know once you're there, you're one phone call away. I guess I'm a little nervous, I mean, two years ago I was pitching in a quarterfinal playoff game in high school, so this is huge but...you know, I'm not. I really want to think I'll be nervous, but I'm ready for this. I'm not going to say its overdue, but I'm ready. I set my own expectations pretty high, I always have, and my expectations are for me to be pitching in the Major Leagues.
MadFriars.com: There have been some great quotes this year, but in my opinion yours was the best. You had a tough outing, walked six guys in a game and you were talking after the game and said, "Well, there was no noose around, so I couldn't hang myself." That's telling it like it is, and that's one of those things that's going to make writers like myself love you. Is that just frustration, or are you trying to be funny?
Sean Thompson: Gosh, did I say that? You know, I've worked so hard to get away from walks, I get teased because guys on the team say I just walk guys and then pick them off. Sometimes I say funny things, and I don't mean any disrespect, it just keeps the pressure in the room from getting too big, keeps my ears from falling off. I'm such a competitor, I want to succeed every time I step between the lines, and I know that sometimes that can be a bad thing, so I'll make jokes, or say something stupid just to let the pressure out of the room, but really, it's just me trying to calm down.
MadFriars.com: Anything you're specifically working on this offseason, I know it's hard for the Padres to just say, "Learn how to throw your fastball for a strike," so what did they tell you?
Sean Thompson: Actually, they kinda said "Learn how to throw a strike." I think they know that's the only thing standing in my way. When they put me on the 40-man roster, they said its not just an invite to Spring Training, it's an invitation to the team, it's a chance to make the roster. I sort of told myself it's just because they needed to protect me, just because they were afraid I'd get taken in the Rule V draft, but they told me that's not the case. I just want to go to Spring Training, work hard, throw well, and then see what happens. I look at this as an opportunity for me to not give them a choice. If I'm pitching as well as I can then I figure they won't have a choice, they'll have to move me up. All I can control is how well I throw, and I know if I keep throwing strikes, I'll be making it hard for them not to move me up.
MadFriars.com: What is a typical offseason day like for you?
Sean Thompson: I'll wake up, go have lunch with my girl [a University of Tennessee soccer player who Thompson jokingly refers to as a 'marginal athlete' knowing full well it's going to get him into trouble], come back, watch TV, play some video games, which makes my girlfriend angry, then we'll play some ping pong. Then I'll go throw with my buddy Kevin Mackey, who's probably going to get drafted this year, then I'll make some jokes. When I'm at home it's different, I'll sleep until one, play video games till four, do my jokes, throw, play more video games, wrestle around with brother (I always win), then my mom will go to bed and my dad and I will stay up and watch a movie or something. Of course all throughout the day I'll be talking to my girlfriend.
MadFriars.com: Your voicemail ends with, "I love you Kristen." That's the girlfriend?
Sean Thompson: Yeah, we've been together about two years now, pretty soon she'll be my fiancée. She's just amazing.
MadFriars.com: Does she know that? Should we not print this?
Sean Thompson: Well, when is it getting printed?
MadFriars.com: Next week.
Sean Thompson: She doesn't have to read it right away, go ahead [laughs]. She's a soccer player in college and tore her ACL, it really opened my eyes to things. I've been lucky to be injury free my whole career, but it really reminded me that every time you step on the field it might be your last.
MadFriars.com: X-Box or Playstation?
Sean Thompson: Playstation 2. Definitely.
MadFriars.com: Are you going to be a Phenom? When you get to the Show is it just going to be lights out?
Sean Thompson: I've been answering these questions forever. I'd love to be up there with Peavy and those guys, I'm not going to say Phenom, but I think I'm going to be good right away.
MadFriars.com: How great is it to be left-handed? Are there any 'lefty quirks' we should know about?
Sean Thompson: I never really realized how big a deal it is to be left-handed until one of the scouts told me, 'If you were right handed, you probably wouldn't get drafted." I look at it, and look at guys like Jeff Fassero, who's still pitching even though he can't break a pane of glass, and I love it. I love being a lefty. I used to say I wished I was right-handed so I could have played some more positions, but I'll tell you one thing, my kids will have their right hands tied behind their back. As far as the quirks go...well...here's one, I only get my hair cut by one person. For twelve years the same person has cut my hair, I won't get my hair cut by anyone else. If I make the big league club I'm either going to have to fly home real quick or fly her out to San Diego.
MadFriars.com: It's a good thing you didn't go to the Yankees.
Sean Thompson: Yeah, I would've had to move her out to New York with me.James Renwick can be reached at Renwick@sandiegosports.net