It started as a relatively normal day for former James Madison baseball star Rich Thompson. The 13-year veteran of Minor League Baseball was on his way to an elementary school in the Allentown area when he got the call every baseball player hopes for, a shot at the Major Leagues.
Thompson grew up in Reading, Pa. and enjoyed five seasons near home with the Philadelphia Phillies organization in Triple-A Lehigh Valley. But Wednesday morning he was traded by his childhood home team, the Phillies, to the Tampa Bay Rays, 30 minutes from the current home he shares with his wife Theresa and three kids.
Wednesday night, Thompson suited up for the Rays and appeared in the game late as a pinch runner for designated hitter Luke Scott. By Thursday evening, he was penciled in for his first MLB start as the left fielder against the Boston Red Sox. After striking out to lead off the third inning, he came up again in the fourth, and his soft grounder found a hole through the middle for an RBI single and his first big league hit. He added a pair of stolen bases and a hit by pitch to complete the evening.
It was actually the second trip to "The Show" for Thompson, who made his Major League debut in 2004 as a Rule V selection of the Kansas City Royals. However, his stay was shorter than anticipated as he appeared in just six games, scoring one run and grounding a double play to Omar Vizquel in his only at bat. Thompson spent the next eight years in the minors, not knowing (until Wednesday) if he'd get a second chance.
(NOTE: Media coverage for Rich's story has been extensive. Please visit the attached articles from this week, which were used as sources for this piece.)
Rich Thompson arrived to the campus of James Madison University in the Fall of 1997 and spent the next three years compiling some of the best baseball statistics in the program's history. Major League Baseball teams took notice of his talent and Thompson was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Thompson has spent the better part of the last five seasons playing Triple-A baseball for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. The fan favorite was preparing for another game with the IronPigs on May 16th until he received a call his manager, Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg. Thompson was informed that he had been traded to the Tampa Bay Rays and that they were calling him up to the Majors as part of the active 25-man roster.
During his time playing professional baseball, Thompson has spent a total of 13 seasons in the Minor Leagues since he was drafted. Thompson has played for minor league affiliates of Toronto, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Philadelphia before he was dealt to the Rays.
Thompson's career statistics reflect his status as a seasoned veteran. In his 1,388 Minor League games, he has recorded 442 stolen bases, scored 836 runs, collected 1,390 hits in 4,966 at bats and has a career average of .280. Thompson has also received awards while in the Minors including the MiLb.com Organization All-Star for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, which he received in 2011. He was also named an International League All-Star in 2006 for the IronPigs.
This season Thompson had been putting together one of his better seasons in recent years, which could be attributed to why the Tampa Bay Rays traded for him. As of May 16th, through 29 games for the IronPigs, Thompson had recorded a .307 batting average with 27 hits and 11 runs batted in.
While Thompson was with JMU baseball he put together three very impressive years of baseball where he was known for his ability to get on base, steal bases and score runs. Thompson still currently owns records across a wide variety of statistics for season and career numbers, both at JMU and for the Colonial Athletic Association. He remains second all time at JMU for most stolen bases in a career with 99, which is also good for fifth all time in the CAA record books. Thompson owns second on JMU's list for stolen bases in a season, which he set in 2000 with 50 bases swiped, which is also second-most all time in a season for the CAA. In 2000, Thompson was also named Second Team All-CAA, JMU's Most Valuable Player and was also a Virginia Sports Information Directors All State Honorable Mention.
Thompson's other appearances in the JMU record book include: fourth for stolen bases in a season (35, 1999), eight for at bats in a season (231, 2000), seventh for runs scored in a season (64, 2000), seventh for triples in a season (5, 2000), fourth for most hit by pitches in a season (17, 2000) eighth all time for career triples (10) and ninth in hit by pitches in a career (25).