I've been following Rich's progress since 2008 and have been excited to see him crack a spot in the major league squad. I was fortunate enough to get a short interview with the very busy Thompson last week.
Rich was one of the few Aussie players with Major League experience who played in the inaugural Australian Baseball League. He pitched in three games for the Blue Sox, and picked up a record of 1-0, striking out four over three innings pitched. The support of major league players is a critical success factor for the ABL, and I was interested to hear Thompson's thoughts on the league.
|Rich Thompson pitching for the Blue Sox in the inaugural ABL season|
Following some outstanding performances through spring training in 2011, and a bit of luck through some opportunities arising through injury, Thompson scored a spot in the Angels' bullpen, and he hasn't disappointed. Through his first 20 appearances this year, he has pitched 27 innings, striking out 30, and allowing just three earned runs.
Since he has put quite a number of years into the Angels' minor league system, and is now starting to reap the rewards, I asked Rich how he felt to be in the majors and what he felt was the key to his success. 'I have had time in the big leagues over the last five seasons so it's been easy to become accustomed to how it all works. The Angels are the only organization I have played with, so I can only speak from my experience, but they do a great job preparing their Minor leaguers for the pressures of the Majors'. In terms of his successes this year, Rich said 'I've made a lot of strides in the past few years with more strikes and better pitch command which has given me the opportunity to put up numbers to help establish myself and show more consistency'. He said that for the rest of the season he hopes to pitch later in games and to prove he is 'a reliable go-to guy'.
Off the field, Thompson has also been very much a part of the Angels club, and has been involved in promoting the development of the game. He was recently involved in a coaching clinic at Angel stadium with a few of his teammates and 250 kids.
|Image from OCregister.com|
'The organization does several clinics throughout the year and I was approached about helping out. I was happy to volunteer my time. It's run similar to Training With the Pros in Sydney each January so I was familiar with the format and these kids were so eager to learn'.
Also off the field, Thompson has joined many other MLB stars by embracing social media. The LA Angels are one of the most prolific Tweeting teams in the majors, with Thompson being joined in the twitter-verse by Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos among others. While he is not quite as hardcore a tweeter as his compatriot and fellow reliever Peter Moylan, Thompson boasts more than 4500 followers, and has embraced the interactive qualities of twitter. 'Twitter has changed everything...it's a fun way to interact,' he said. 'A lot of the support I get is from fellow Aussies, and social media opens up a new avenue for fans to gain access to athletes regardless of where they're playing'. [If you didn't check it out at the time, check Thompson's tweet stream for the very cool and original Easter Egg hunt he ran at Angel Stadium].
One thing that differentiates Thompson from some of the other Aussies in the majors at the moment is his extensive array of baseball cards - there are at least ten different cards out there. I asked him how this all came about. 'When I made the Futures Game in 2007, about five or six cards came out. Within the last few years I've come across most of my cards and have gathered at least one of each. The limited edition ones are harder to come by, but I don't really go out of my way to collect them'. For any autograph hunters out there, it seems Rich is happy to help. 'It's always interesting to open up fan mail and sign a new card that I haven't seen before,' he said.
When asked what was the best advice he could give up and coming Aussie baseballers, Thompson reflected back to some words of wisdom imparted from a fellow Aussie many years ago. 'When I was 13 I attended a two-day camp with Mark Shipley,' said Thompson. Shipley's advice was 'Don't drink. Don't smoke. Always be clean shaven. And church on Sundays - That's always stuck with me'. Thompson said. 'Since I can't be bothered shaving and we play games on Sundays, I guess two out of four ain't bad'.
We wish Rich all the best for the remainder of the MLB season, and we look forward to seeing him back in Sydney for the ABL later in the year!