Washington Huskies football fans are glad Shaq Thompson is returning to his comfort zone and that his minor league baseball experiment is over. They are even happier that their Pacific-12 Conference safety survived his summer job without injury.
With his baseball debacle behind him, Thompson has shifted his attention to football. The No. 2-ranked prep player in California, No. 16 on the ESPNU Top 150 and No. 3 safety in the country has been working out in the Sacramento area and is scheduled to arrive on the Seattle campus Thursday, four days before fall camp begins.
After originally committing to Cal, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Thompson changed his mind in favor of Washington. By doing so, he gained a coach, Steve Sarkisian, who as a former USC baseball player allowed him to play professional baseball this summer.
Thus, the saga of one of the worst seasons in pro ball began. Thompson, who was drafted out of Grant High School in the 18th round in June by the Boston Red Sox, reportedly received a two-sport deal that could earn him up to $100,000 during the next five years. His contract included a $45,000 signing bonus.
However, the Red Sox didn't get much of a return on their investment in the first year. In 13 games in the rookie Gulf Coast League, the rock bottom of all minor leagues, Thompson had 39 official at-bats, striking out an eye-popping 37 times. In his two non-strikeout at-bats, he grounded weakly to first base and, in his last at-bat of his season, was robbed of a hit on a shoestring catch by the right fielder. He walked eight times.
Thompson's struggles were predictable, according to Red Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye.
"We discussed the very real possibility that he would struggle, but he was willing to take the risk," Sawdaye told Alex Speier of WEEI.com. "We did not have any expectations. I think it's unfair to put those on any kid in his first year of pro ball. If he goes 0 for 5 with five punch-outs, who cares?"
Normally, an inexperienced player like Thompson would not have been put in a position to fail. Instead, he would have spent hours in the batting cage and on the practice field developing a better feel for the game, all in preparation for the Instructional League in the fall.
But the Red Sox knew Thompson would leave in late July and would be unavailable for the IL. The decision to have Thompson play in the GCL for the experience was viewed by Red Sox officials as more important than the results.
While the Red Sox proceeded cautiously, Internet bloggers came down hard on Thompson.
"I think I could manage, if given 39 at-bats against any level of pro pitching, to at least pop the ball up or tap a grounder back to the mound more than twice," one blogger said.
Another said: "He gave up baseball in the fifth grade? Now, I'm supposed to find it inspiring because he's getting $45,000 to strike out in 90% of his plate appearances?"
And still another: "I'd rather give credit to the kids who bust their butts their whole life honing their craft that never get drafted, as opposed to give credit to someone whose summer job is being a buffoon on a baseball field. This is insulting to everybody who was drafted below the 18th round, or not at all."
One blogger suggested Sarkisian pulled some strings.
"Sounds to me like Washington may have found a way to pay a kid $45,000 to play football for them."
Red Sox personnel were not amused by the negative comments and quickly defended their player, who eventually became one of the most popular players in the GCL.
"We, as an industry, are trying to get athletes into MLB. We don't want to lose them to other sports," Sawdaye told Speier. "So, when we get the opportunity to get a player who has some potential, is an elite athlete, and importantly wants to play baseball, it would be a shame if we turn our backs on them.
"Even worse, if we put a microscope on those players and ridicule them for their struggles, we will never be able to attract the raw player who needs to go through growing pains. It's not easy, but it's necessary."
Thompson has declined all interview requests.
Around the region
A shoulder injury limited Stockton Ports catcher Max Stassi (Yuba City) to just 31 games played last season, and he was sidelined by an ankle injury for much of this April. But the 2009 fourth-round pick of the A's is healthy again and enjoying his finest pro season. Stassi hit his second homer in as many nights in the Ports' 14-3 victory over Visalia on Thursday. Stassi, who has 13 home runs this season, had four in the week ending June 22 and was named California League Player of the Week.
The U.S. Women's National Team will conduct trials and a training period through Aug. 8 in Salt Lake City before playing in the IBAF World Cup on Aug. 10-19 in Edmonton, Alberta. Tara Tembey (Folsom), a member of the 2011 team, is among the 36 players.
Did you know Dusty Baker (Del Campo) is the lowest-drafted player who made the quickest rise to the major leagues? The current Cincinnati Reds manager was the Atlanta Braves' 26th-round pick in 1967 and debuted in the majors as a 19-year-old on Sept. 7, 1968.