The door to Scott Thomson's professional baseball career was opened by former Old Dominion University teammate Ty Hawkins.
After a string of injuries left the Erie (Pa.) Sailors -- a Class A independent cooperative team in the New York Penn League -- short of outfielders midway through the season, Manager Barry Moss asked Hawkins if he knew of any power-hitting outfielders who could fill the void immediately.
His answer was Thomson. So after a phone call, a quick tryout anda minor problem getting his contract faxed to the league commissioner's office, the 22-year-old Westminster grad found himself the Sailors' starting center fielder in late July.
"I got a call from Ty's father, John, who at the time was watching a game in Erie with the Sailors' GM (Tom Lindemath, who has since been replaced by Skip Weisman)and he told me to get up there as soon as possible," Thomson said.
"The first day I had a quick tryout. I ran, threw and hit for them and the next day I signed a contract. It was faxed to the commissioner's office too late to start that night, but I started the next day."
He started the remaining 42 games in center field batting either third or cleanup in the lineup.
"Scott's a good power hitter who can also hit for average. He can play all three outfield positions as well as first base and has a better-than-average arm and good speed,"Moss said.
After a slow start at the plate (one hit in his first 17 appearances), Thomson came on strong, finishing with a .300 batting average with seven homers, 16 doubles and 31 RBI.
"One of the biggest things was adjusting to a wooden bat," said Thomson, who used an aluminum bat throughout his college career and in his stint earlierin the summer with the Taneytown Cardinals of the South Penn League.
"Class A ball is comparable to good Division I college competition. The major difference being the pitching, where you see guys throwing anywhere from 88 to 92 miles per hour day in, day out," he said.
There are other differences between playing professionally and at the college level.
"We'd travel by bus 12 hours for a 6 o'clock game, get back on the bus and get home at 8 in the morning and have to be back on the field at 2 for a 7 o'clock game," Thomson said. "We'd do a lot of the same kind of traveling in college, but we wouldn't have to play the next day and most times wouldn't even have practice.
"(With the Sailors) in 44 calendar days, we played 43 games. I got up there wanting to play every day while some of the other guys were hoping for some rain-outs. The traveling is very demanding."
Another difference, of course, is a paycheck. Thomson earned $950 a month plus meal money and complimentary hotel rooms while traveling.
It was a far cry from the millions made by some major leaguers, but it was a start. Just ask big leaguers Todd Zeile and Todd Worrell of the St. Louis Cardinals, Lance Johnson of the Chicago White Sox and the Orioles' Jose Mesa -- all of whom started with the Sailors.
Thomson is now back home substitute teaching and working at Greenfelt's, a billiard club at the Cranberry Mall. He's running and lifting weights to keep in shape for whatever follows in his baseball career.
He'llhave a better idea shortly after the World Series, when a draft willtake place giving major league organizations an opportunity to select players from the Erie Sailors and the four other independent cooperative teams.
"He has a good chance to move up with an organization," Moss said.
"He has shown he can play at a professional level, and it's just a matter of catching on with someone and developing fromthere."
For now, it's a waiting game for Thomson -- which he is all too familiar with. Out of high school, Thomson was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. He turned down the Sox and opted to go to college anddidn't get drafted out of college.
"I've been through it so many times," he said. "I'm not going to get excited until I get the call or letter."