A Comfortable Lead Over the Competition

Mike Thompson—the baseball player—is a comfortable sort of guy. No, not the Mike Thompson baseball player from the 1970s (no relation). This Mike Thompson is from the comfortable town of Lamar, Colorado. This Mike Thompson is a right-handed starter, pitching comfortably for Triple-A Portland, a San Diego Padres affiliate.

"Dang, it's about time," Thompson said of getting called up to the Beavers last year. "You look back at the people you were drafted with and there's not many of them left. You know that you've accomplished a lot, but [Triple-A is] really not the main goal or the main purpose. It feels good, but it's still not the big time."

The 25-year-old was a sixth-year free agent before he signed with the Padres again, a decision based on his familiarity with the organization.

"My goal is to make it with the Padres," he said, "and also it's a level of comfort knowing most of the coaching staff from Triple-A on up. Especially going to big league spring training, it's very clutch to be comfortable around all these guys with all this major league time and experience. It's being comfortable and concentrated on one thing—winning the ball game—instead of worrying about all the other attributes that are surrounded by major league play. I don't want to stick out like a soar thumb."

Mike Thompson, who was drafted by the Padres in the 5th round in 1999, had waited so long to get that thumb to Portland that in his first start with the Beavers, he pitched a one-hitter over seven innings. It probably seemed a lot longer because of his choice to go pro after graduating from Lamar High School.

"The reason I chose not to go to college was because if I was going to play baseball, you can only do that for a certain amount of time in your life," Thompson said. "Your body wears down, so I thought if I was going to play pro ball I should just get started and do it now."

In Lamar, baseball was about the only thing they had, but as for the rest of Colorado, it's somewhat of a different story.

"In Denver it's fairly big and in Colorado Springs," Thompson said, "but we don't have a Division I program for college. In high school, if you could get good weather it's fairly decent [to play], but baseball isn't very big."

Colorado is, however, a popular place for winter sports, and Thompson considers himself a pretty big skier.

"I'm not supposed to be skiing," he admits, "but I've been skiing about 30 times in my life."

When they weren't hitting the slopes or on the field themselves, Thompson and his brother, who is seven years older, grew up watching the Chicago Cubs.

"My brother liked the Cubs so I just followed him," Thompson remembered. "You always look up to your older brother, but WGN had like five stations in Colorado. It was the only station that played baseball because TBS, I don't think, was airing at that time where we lived.

"I also grew up always watching Nolan Ryan, an outstanding pitcher, but our styles of pitching are different. He was more of a power pitcher, and I'm more of a finesse kind of guy."

Thompson, who also loves music and plays everything from metal to alternative rock, is considered a finesse pitcher that relies on the movement and command of his fastball. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Thompson is very comfortable on the mound, having pitched to mainly the same catcher since rookie ball in 1999 – something that will change for the first time when he returns to the mound in 2006 as Nick Trzesniak signed with the Texas Rangers this offseason.

"For being around [catcher] Nick Trzesniak for six or seven years now, he knows me like the back of his hand and vice versa. I don't ever shake him off. We learned a lot about each other."

While he has some experience in the bullpen, he's more comfortable in the starting rotation, and if it wasn't obvious, comfort is an important element to him.

"I have to get a groove going for six or seven innings," he said, "and I'm just more comfortable setting the tone for the ballgame and trying to win instead of coming out of the bullpen. Even though I'm not very good, I like batting too; I like to hit."

(Note: After going 1-21 at the plate the year before, Thompson did improve to 6-42 at the plate last year.)

In nine games with Portland after being called up from Mobile, Thompson compiled a 4-2 record on the mound with 25 K's, 13 walks, and a 3.15 ERA. Oh yeah, all this came in 60 innings pitched.

"The main thing is being consistent," he said of his play. "When you're consistent, you have a low ERA, and you can always contribute to a team. With my past three seasons in the minor leagues I've won 10 games each year. To win 10 games, that's pretty big for minor leagues.

"When you're on a team you bond, even though in the major leagues you never know who your teammates are going to be. But if you can unite a team with friendship and companionship along with being a good teammate it's really helpful."

In many situations, being comfortable can help avoid mistakes. Put Mike Thompson in the Padres lineup, a place where he would be most at ease, and his companionship and his arm would be helpful for everyone.

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