Cyclones infielder David Thompson emerges from the first base dugout at MCU Park and trots to his position at third base. The Mets 2015 fourth-round pick out of the University of Miami is just getting used to life in professional baseball, and he’s still trying to adapt to all the changes happening in front of him.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Thompson said. “It’s definitely been a big adjustment coming from college to here, but we’ve got a great group of guys on the team, and it’s cool to play in front of so many fans every day.”
Long bus trips, the grind of daily games and better pitching present all new tests for the 22-year-old Miami native. But as much as these may pose challenges for Thompson, he is taking it all in stride and soaking it all in. After all, he knows his career could end at any moment. Because a year ago, it nearly did.
After finishing a weekend series with Georgia Tech, Thompson, then a sophomore at Miami, decided to get some exercise and go for a bike ride. But as he hopped on the bike that Monday morning, he felt numbness in his arm and couldn’t grip the handlebars. It was painful, but Thompson shrugged it off.
Attempting to get back on the field the next day, Thompson couldn’t ignore the pain anymore. The numbness intensified. His normally white arm turned into a sickly shade of purple. The next day, it was more of the same. He went to the hospital and got what seemed to be a grim diagnosis — a blood clot-related thoracic outlet syndrome, a disease that affects the nerves and blood vessels near the shoulder.
“I was scared. Honestly, at first I didn’t know how serious this was,” Thompson said. “I heard blood clot and I’ve heard a lot of scary stories about things like that. Then I wondered if I would ever play baseball again.”
He would need surgery, one that required him to have the clot removed, along with his first rib, so the pressure in his arm could be relieved. Thompson had previously undergone surgeries on his labrum for injuries he suffered while playing high school football. It wouldn’t be his first surgery, but it felt like the worst.
Dr. Lee Kaplan, Miami's team doctor and the one who diagnosed the syndrome, assured Thompson that he would recover and get back on the field. Other players before him, like former MLBers Josh Beckett and Chris Carpenter, had dealt with similar situations and made comebacks. Thompson would be no different.
He went on to have the surgery and wound up missing 32 games in 2014. Not being on the field was only part of the difficult situation, however.
“I had to inject myself with a shot every day just to play for about six months after that,” Thompson said. “And if I knew if I got hit by a pitch or something I would have to come right out of the game. I was always trying to get out of the way of stuff as quick as possible.”
(Dustin Satloff / Brooklyn Cyclones)
But Thompson pushed through this trying time with the support of family, teammates and coaches. By the beginning of the 2015 season, he was ready to get back on the field. The symptoms and side effects from the syndrome past him, Thompson had one of the best seasons of his career. He finished his junior year with 19 home runs, 90 RBIs and a .328 batting average, all among the team’s best. With his help, Miami reached the College World Series for the first time in seven years.
“I always dreamed about going to Miami ever since I was little kid,” Thompson said. “This year was a great group of guys, closest team I’ve ever been on. And just being able to get as far as we did and play as well as we did was an amazing and fun experience.”
An exciting time, yes, but Thompson admitted that there was at least one stressful moment during the early days of June. The MLB Draft was nearing, and he wondered if -- or when -- he would be selected. In 2012, he was taken in the 38th round by the Yankees, but had no intention of signing. Professional baseball was his goal, but it could wait until after he had some college experience. On June 9, the wait proved to be worth it.
Anxiously waiting his name to be called, it finally was on the second day of the draft when the Mets selected him with the No. 119 overall pick. Just a little over a year after he thought it was all over, Thompson was now a professional baseball player.
“It was real nerve-wracking,” he said of draft day. “Honestly, out of high school I didn’t expect to get drafted at all just because I knew I was going to college. And then in high school I got drafted and I wasn’t even watching, I wasn’t paying any attention, it was kind of funny. But this was real nerve-wracking. I was definitely sitting on the edge of my seat for a while, but it was an amazing experience when the Mets called.”
Now in Brooklyn, Thompson is attempting to acclimate himself to a new environment. Having spent much of his life in South Florida, the scenery of Coney Island presents some culture shock. Trading palm trees for skyscrapers and car rides for subway trips can seem overwhelming at times. To him, in a sense, it’s a foreign land.
“Well it’s weird not being able to drive anywhere, ever,” Thompson said with a laugh. “Miami’s a big city, but it’s nowhere near the size of New York. It’s a definitely a lot different here. Taking the train, just getting everywhere and finding little stores to get places.”
(Dustin Satloff / Brooklyn Cyclones)
Baseball has given him some stability in this new place, yet at the same time, it has even brought its own, new difficulties. As a star in both high school and college, Thompson always succeeded at every level. But through 49 games, Thompson is hitting .229 with a .289 on-base percentage, three home runs and 19 RBIs. His defense has been superb, according to Brooklyn manager Tom Gamboa, but at the plate, Thompson needs to hone in on pitches he can handle.
“He’s certainly a very aggressive guy, which I personally like, but we have to harness that aggressiveness a little bit because he’s had a lot of nights where when we critique the game the next day, I said he’ll have five at-bats, maybe get one hit and strike out two or three times,” Gamboa said.
“But he’s got a great attitude, like I said, very aggressive. He’s got all the prerequisites for a third baseman, defensively and he’s got the power."
For Thompson, he believes his success predicates on staying focused and not letting any outside distractions get in the way.
“It’s definitely a grind, coming every single day no matter if you go 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, you’ve got to come with a fresh mindset and just know that today’s a new day no matter what happened yesterday," Thompson said.
And luckily for him, he has one now has one less distraction. Any feeling of pain from the blood clots is a thing of the past.
“No, it’s under control,” Thompson said. “Nothing bothers me at all.”