By GREG MENGELT
Former Floyd Central and current Louisville Cardinal pitcher Jeff Thompson has had a year to remember.
The 2013 Floyd Central graduate is 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA as a junior at Louisville. He has struck out 109 batters with just 33 walks. In 103 1/3 innings, batters have just 60 hits and are batting just .169 against the 6-foot-6, 248-pounder.
Thompson’s performance was rewarded last week. In a week he will likely never forget, Thompson was drafted in the third round by the Detroit Tigers on Friday. Then on Sunday, he gave up just one run on three hits as the Cardinals advanced to the College Baseball World Series with a 2-1 victory — and a Super Regional sweep — over Vanderbilt.
And things could only get better. Louisville faces first-time World Series participant Indiana in the first round of the World Series at Omaha. The Cards beat the Hoosiers twice in a three-game series this season.
When the tournament is finished, Thompson will decide in July whether to stay at Louisville or pursue his dream of being a Major Leaguer.
Following Tuesday’s practice at Jim Patterson Stadium, News and Tribune sports editor Greg Mengelt talked with Thompson to talk about the MLB draft, the win over Vanderbilt, the College World Series and his future.
• QUESTION: Can you describe how incredible this past week has been for you personally?
• THOMPSON: “It’s been very exciting, winning the Super Regional and getting a chance to go to Omaha. It’s one of those things you dream about growing up. Once you decide to become a college baseball player, that’s the ultimate goal. It’s one of those things that finally came true for us.”
• Q: What, have you already forgotten about being drafted by the defending American League champions?
• THOMPSON: “Nah, I hadn’t forgotten about it. But, yeah, that’s pretty cool, too.”
• Q: It’s been such a whirlwind week for you, let’s start at the beginning. Did you have an idea where or by whom you’d be drafted?
• THOMPSON: “I really didn’t have any expectations. I figured I’d go where I’d go and, hopefully, it would be a good situation.”
• Q: How did you get the news?
• THOMPSON: “I found out from the guys on the bus [traveling to Nashville for the Super Regional]. I was sitting there trying to listen to some music and trying to grab a nap. All of the sudden, I heard people yelling my name and that I got taken from the Tigers.”
• Q: Did you get the phone call from the Tigers on the bus, too?
• THOMPSON: “Yes.”
• Q: How did that conversation go?
• THOMPSON: “They just said, ‘Congratulations. Welcome to the organization’ and they’d give me a call once I got done playing and we’d talk after that.”
• Q: Playing college baseball is great, but obviously every kids, from they time they’re in Little League, wants to be a professional baseball player. You knew it was coming, but can you describe the moment you found out that a Major League Baseball team thought enough of you to take you in the draft?
• THOMPSON: “It’s gratifying, but to tell you the truth, I was more focused on that weekend and not trying to look ahead to the next couple of years. I mean, I’m trying to focus on the now and win a championship.”
• Q: Do you have a plan for next year?
• THOMPSON: “I couldn’t tell you. I have no clue what’s going to happen. I haven’t talked to my advisor or anything about it. It’s completely up in the air.”
• Q: Obviously, it’s your goal to me a Major Leaguer. How do you see you see your career progressing from next year on?
• THOMPSON: “I really don’t know. Once you get into the professional baseball system, it’s kind of what they want to do with you. It’s up to them how they want to move you and progress you on. If they feel like you’re ready, they’ll send you. If they feel like you’re not, they’ll keep you back. So, I just have to go out there and do my thing and hope for the best.”
• Q: Do you feel like you’re a Major Leaguer some day?
• THOMPSON: “I hope so. Those guys are pretty talented. One day, with a lot of hard work, I’ll get there.”
• Q: Let’s talk about this past weekend. Louisville had been to the World Series in 2007 before you got here. What did it mean to this team to kind of put your stamp on the program and establish Louisville as a legitimate World Series-type program.
• THOMPSON: “It meant a lot. When we first got here, my class, we actually didn’t make the tournament and only won 30-something games. From then on, we made it our goal to get here. That was our ultimate goal and to compete for a national championship.”
• Q: Is this team capable of winning a World Series championship?
• THOMPSON: “First and foremost, we have to win Game 1. That’s our focus right now — going out there, playing good defense, pitching well and hopefully scratching some runs across and coming out on top. Then we continue that all the way through.”
• Q: When do you expect to get your first World Series start?
• THOMPSON: “Not positively yet. I know Chad [Green] is going the first game. I figure I’ll probably go the second game, but I’m not for sure yet.”
• Q: Being from Indiana, did you want the chance to face Indiana? Or did that matter to you?
• THOMPSON: “No, it never really mattered to me. It wasn’t like I was ever a big Indiana fan growing up or anything like that. [Indiana is] a great team. I’d love to face those guys. They have a lot of great hitters throughout their lineup. It would have been great to get to face them, but I’m just grateful to be there.”
• Q: Did Indiana recruit you?
• THOMPSON: “Yeah, a little bit, but I already had my eye coming here and playing for Louisville.”
• Q: How old were you when you decided you wanted to play baseball for Louisville?
• THOMPSON: “It was actually the year they went to Omaha. That’s the year I started playing for the Indiana Bulls, my travel team, and we’d watched them on TV when we were on the road. I said, ‘I want to be part of that.”
• Q: Did you follow the Floyd Central High School baseball team at all?
• THOMPSON: “Yeah, I got updates. I never got to get out there and watch them because we were in-season, but yeah, they had a great year.”
• Q: Do you still have fond memories of playing for Coach [Casey] LaDuke and wearing the green and gold?
• THOMPSON: “It was a great time, going out there and having fun every day, playing stress-free baseball. Just going out there, playing the game and having fun.”