Thompson opens eyes Torborg, Mets like what they see Chestertown native makes fast impression

October 01, 1992|By Tara Finnegan | Tara Finnegan,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- A few weeks ago, the New York Mets only knew of Ryan Thompson as the "player to be named" along with second baseman Jeff Kent in the trade that sent David Cone to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Since Sept. 4, Thompson, a 24-year-old native of Chestertown, has been starting for the Mets, dividing his time between the three outfield positions.

Thompson was acquired by the Mets on Sept. 1 and that same evening manager Jeff Torborg sent him in to replace Vince Coleman, who was ejected in the third inning.

"I asked him 'Can you get loose enough to get in the game?' " Torborg said. "And he said, 'I can get loose on the way out to the field.' "

Just what every manager wants to hear.

"It was a great line," Torborg said. "It surprised me. I hadn't heard that one before."

The one-line reply is vintage Thompson, dating back to his days at Kent County High School in Worton, where he was an All-Bayside Conference selection in football, basketball and baseball.

"The way I like to remember Ryan is he had incredible talent and his love for the game," said Dave Smith, Thompson's high school and American Legion baseball coach. "The way he approached the game was that it was always going to be fun."

Thompson's eagerness immediately impressed Torborg.

"You can see how enthusiastic he was about being in the big leagues around guys he had only heard about," Torborg said. "I hope he never loses that.

"[Thompson] gives me a good feeling about our future with a kid like that in center field. I like what I've seen very much -- he's a good defensive outfielder, a good throwing arm, he runs and has pop in his bat."

"It's pretty exciting," said Thompson, who is still somewhat in shock over his sudden leap to the major leagues. "It's like getting a Christmas present a few months early."

Thompson got his first major-league hit on Sept. 3 against Cincinnati's Chris Hammond. Afterward, his teammates awarded him the game ball. He hit his first major-league home run, a three-run shot against the Cubs, on Sept. 22.

"The night he got his first hit I had just gotten off an Outward Bound course in Montana," Smith said. "My daughter, Jill, called me and told me to get to a TV because Ryan was playing center field for the Mets.

"I went down to one of the bars in Red Lodge and there he was. I was just about speechless and I just had a grin on my face that wouldn't quit."

Thompson was drafted in 1987 by the Toronto organization immediately after high school graduation.

Before he was traded, Thompson was with Toronto's Triple-A team in Syracuse, N.Y., where he was hitting .283 with 14 home runs, 46 RBI and a team-leading 74 runs scored.

"When I saw him play in Toledo [Triple-A] this year, there was no doubt in my mind that he was one of their best players in Triple-A ball," Smith said.

Thompson, who is batting .221 with three home runs and nine RBI after hitting two bases-empty home runs Monday night, said he's glad to be getting his chance to make it in the major leagues.

"I don't feel any pressure here," Thompson said. "Now I've got to really stay focused. I've got to know the situation I'm in and take full advantage of it."

With the fifth-place Mets out contention in the National League's East Division, the opportunity is there.

"He doesn't have much to worry about," said teammate Bobby Bonilla. "Right now he can pretty much showcase his talent."

Thompson knows he has the stage, but says, "baseball has a way of humbling a person. It can bring you back to earth real fast."

So far the game hasn't humbled him, but his teammates have.

"The other day they put shaving cream in the telephone receiver and I put it up to my ear and got shaving cream all over my face," Thompson said. "I'm watching everything now. I'm waiting for my clothes or something to disappear."

It didn't take long. After the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Phillies on Sept. 9, his clothes were nowhere to be found. He was forced to wear bell-bottomed pants with a clashing shirt and tie as the Mets left Veterans Stadium en route to Montreal.

Welcome to the big leagues.

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