Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson feels like he’s back in his place

Bat bags and an extra-large suitcase.

In many ways, they were the defining memories of Trayce Thompsonthe transitional career path of.

Over 13 years in professional baseball, the journeyman outfielder has been with nine franchises; played for 19 major and minor league teams; been traded, purchased or claimed six times.

At the end of each rotating relay, two things usually happen:

He is packing his bags to move to a new city, a new clubhouse, a new organization.

And he puts the old bat bag away in his family’s storage unit, adding to a collection that now looks like a kaleidoscope of abandoned baseball relics.

“It’s a bit intimidating,” I said, “to see all the different colors.”

Indeed, the spectrum ranges from Chicago White Sox black to Oakland Athletic green, Arizona Diamondback red to San Diego Padre brown.

Thinking back to all the recent changes, Thompson couldn’t help but sigh.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Trayce Thompson, right, hits a solo home run past Washington Nationals wide receiver Keibert Ruiz

Trayce Thompson is batting .295 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 29 games during his current stint with the Dodgers.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

“Coming, you still think you’re going to be with one team,” I conceded. “It was mental work.”

But then, I proudly noted, his collection always featured more Rogue Blue than anything else.

This is the club with which, six years ago, he experienced the peak of his career.

And the team that over the past month has given him a long-awaited opportunity to return to the majors.

“I knew I could get to the big leagues and contribute and recover and be an impact player,” Thompson said recently, now more than a month away from a trade that brought him back to Los Angeles, where it emerges as mid-season. surprise with a .301 batting average, four home runs and 17 RBIs in 30 games.

“But to do it here, with a lot of guys that I know, a lot of people that I’ve spent a lot of time with, I think the common theme is just special,” he continued. “It’s something I never really thought could happen.”

There was a time when Thompson thought he would be with the Dodgers for the long term.

A Southland native who attended Santa Margarita High School in Orange County, Thompson was drafted by the White Sox in the second round in 2009 and then traded to the Dodgers after a successful MLB debut in 2015.

I immediately felt at home.

Thompson made the opening day roster coming out of spring training in 2016. He developed a quick bond at his new clubhouse, even moving in with Game Pederson, Corey Seager and Alex Wood.

And in the first half of the campaign that followed, he blossomed as a 25-year-old rookie, posting a .796 on-base plus slugging percentage and 13 homers in his first 73 games while batting at times as well. top than third in the range.

“I carried for us for a month or two”, director david roberts reminded

At the time, Thompson said he “felt like I was going to be here for a while.”

Dodgers' Trayce Thompson arrives for a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox on March 19, 2016

Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson arrives for a spring training baseball game against the Chicago White Sox on March 19, 2016 in Phoenix.

(Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

Instead, his career quickly fell apart.

I aggravated a back injury in July. An X-ray a few weeks later revealed two fractured vertebrae, a season-ending injury.

His time with the Dodgers was also numbered.

After bouncing between triple-A and big leagues in 2017, batting just .122 in 27 games, Thompson was slated for team assignment at the end of spring training the following year, claimed on waivers by the Yankees. of New York, then again by Athletics two days later.

“I didn’t play well,” Thompson said of his first stint with the Dodgers. “That’s what it’s about.”

His next two years weren’t much better: a self-confessed “disaster” in 2018, when he batted just .117 in 51 games with the A’s and White Sox; a lackluster 2019 season with triple-A affiliate Cleveland; and a pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign spent entirely at the Diamondbacks’ alternate training site.

“I just lived with one big suitcase,” he said with a self-deprecating laugh. “I learned to be efficient with my luggage.”

Despite the setbacks, I did not envisage retirement.

“Coming, you always think you’re going to be with one team. It’s been a mental struggle.”

– Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson

“I always knew I could do it,” he said, “so I always saw a light at the end of the tunnel.”

But he was also aware that his career was on the brink.

“I had to dig deep,” I said. “I didn’t want to end my career thinking that I hadn’t given up everything.”

Trayce wasn’t the only member of the Thompson family going through adversity at the time.

While toiling in the miners, trying to rediscover his game, his older brother Klay Thompsonthe Golden State Warriors All-Star guard, was benched with a series of serious injuries, missing the entire 2019-20 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and the entire 2020-21 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon

Trayce said Klay came to him for advice on how he dealt with the disappointment of his back injury and how he coped with the mental challenges of long-term rehab.

Their discussions, however, also had an impact on Trayce.

“Seeing his mental toughness to get through it all and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is similar to what I had to go through,” Trayce said. “Not necessarily because of an injury, but just because of my performances and everything that has happened in my career.

Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson signs autographs for fans while watching the Dodgers play against the San Francisco Giants

Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson signs autographs for fans while watching the Dodgers take on the San Francisco Giants July 24 at Dodger Stadium.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

“I definitely looked at him as an inspiration. He came back from two serious injuries when a lot of people counted him out and didn’t know if he was going to be who he is or whatever. So I don’t had no excuse but to do everything I can to come back [to the majors] and get well.

For Trayce, that meant taking a “deep dive” into his declining performance, trying to figure out where he went astray.

There were long hours spent in front of a computer, watching and replaying videos of his swing, and others around the sport he admired. He also had many “talks about himself”, trying to piece together his psyche with “confidence and conviction”.

Again, Klay provided some family motivation.

“My brother is a good example of that, a guy who never shy away from a moment, never shy away from a certain shot,” Trayce said. “He’s a guy I learn from.”

As Klay returned to the field last fall, moving to win a fourth NBA title with the Warriors, Trayce finally returned to the majors for the first time in three years, earning a September call-up from the Chicago Cubs last season after hitting 21 homers during the triple-A season.

“Mentally, I had to reassess myself…and sort of find myself,” Thompson said. “I feel like the last two years, starting in 2019, have been a journey towards that.”

Two days before he celebrated Klay’s triumphant return to the Warriors championship parade last month, Michael Thompson sat in a Bay Area hotel room and watched his other son’s latest twist unfold in real time.

After signing with the Padres this spring and being released after just six MLB games, Trayce was back in the minors, excelling for the Detroit Tigers’ triple-A affiliate in his latest attempt to revive his career.

“It felt like he was back home. It was his dream to put the Dodger uniform back on.

— Mychal Thompson, father of Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson

During Father’s Day afternoon on June 19, in a game Mychal was watching live on his computer from his hotel room, Trayce hit a sixth-inning single that lifted his batting average of the season at 0.299.

Mychal was delighted. Then he was confused.

In the seventh inning, Trayce was unexpectedly taken out of the game.

Oh no Mychal thought. Did Trayce hurt herself?

Shortly after, however, Mychal’s phone rang. Trayce was on the other end of the line.

“Hi, Dad,” Trayce said. “I just got traded.”

Where?

“The Dodgers,” he blurted enthusiastically.

Dodgers' Trayce Thompson gestures to the stands after hitting a three-run home run

Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson gestures to the stands after hitting a three-run home run against the Colorado Rockies July 4 at Dodger Stadium.

(Kyusung Gong/Associated Press)

Mychal immediately recognized the importance of this, knowing all too well the feelings his son had towards the organization – the blue memories he had kept in their warehouse all these years.

“Every hair on my body stood up,” the former Lakes center recently recalled. “It felt like he was back home. It was his dream to put the Dodger uniform back on.

Mychal added: “It was an answer to my prayers.”

Tracye, meanwhile, helped solve some of the Dodgers’ midseason issues.

When they suffered injuries in the outfield, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said the team immediately targeted the right-handed hitter.

“He made a big impression when he was here,” Friedman said. “He was someone we watched closely and always rooted for.”

And in what has since become his longest stint in the big league since 2018, Trayce shined his branding power – it’s a small sample, but his .542 hitting percentage is the best on the team – and coupled strong outfield defense with newfound consistency on the plate

“Having Trayce comfortable, knowing his surroundings, I think gave him the best chance to perform right off the bat,” Roberts said. “He’s a guy you can’t bet against.”

Trayce’s role for the rest of the season remains unclear.

Chris Taylor is on the verge of returning from a broken foot. The Dodgers would have been on the market for another bat before the trade deadline on Tuesday.

Still, for Trayce, there hasn’t been another trip to the storage unit lately; no sign that he will have to pack his suitcase anytime soon.

So far, just being back in the majors — and with the Dodgers, in particular — has been a rewarding first step.

“A lot of teams maybe didn’t see that in me, which is good,” he said. “But I always knew I was capable of being here.”