On the Wiffle ball field, Diamondbacks’ Ryan Thompson learned different pitching styles
Oct 21, 2023, 1:16 PM | Updated: Oct 23, 2023, 8:52 am
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks side-arm reliever Ryan Thompson practiced pitching like the pros while playing Wiffle ball in his backyard with friends growing up in Oregon.
They competed in “Major League Wiffle Ball,” where they picked a team and impersonated MLB players’ batting stances and pitching motions.
“Me and my neighbors’ kids, we broke down all the rosters of all the teams and we had them in our little binder,” Thompson said. “When we would play, we would pick a team. ‘Today I’m going to be the Diamondbacks. Today I’m going to be the Red Sox,’ whatever it was. If we hit, we had to mimic that batting stance. If we pitched — we didn’t have to throw lefty, we had to hit lefty, but we didn’t have to throw lefty — but we had to mimic everybody’s mechanics.”
Around that time, Thompson grew an affinity for Diamondbacks side-arm closer Byung-hyun Kim. The D-backs won the 2001 World Series when Thompson was 9 years old.
Remember when Byung-Hyun Kim struck out the side on 9 pitches? pic.twitter.com/XgpUEIrvsd
— Xin Varlock (@XinNBA) June 8, 2023
Ryan Thompson, 92mph Paint. 🖌️🎨 pic.twitter.com/eJ775xhVu2
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 10, 2023
Years later, while he was at a camp in high school, Thompson was open to the idea of applying some of Kim’s mechanics to his game.
“I needed to tell my dad, ‘Hey, I can be like Byung-hyun Kim,'” Thompson said. “We practiced it every day for like three months. All of a sudden, I went from sophomore year not being very good to junior year I was breaking records at my high school.”
Thompson remembers moving furniture around a warehouse with his father — whom he described as a huge baseball fan — to fit a mound so he could practice.
Having that experience with his dad helped spark a dream to play baseball.
Thompson made first team all-state as a senior at Cascade High School with his new delivery, but he said he didn’t get any calls to play Division I. So the future big leaguer went to Chemeketa Community College in Oregon. From there, he transferred to Campbell, where he got drafted by the Houston Astros in the 23rd round of the 2014 draft. Now, the MLB Draft is only 20 rounds.
“I always had a desire to play Division I once I started performing in high school,” Thompson said. “I was really ignorant at that time. I went to a really small school, so I was performing really well, so I was like, ‘University of Oregon, Oregon State, maybe I’ll get drafted.’ Nobody gives me calls or anything.”
Ryan Thompson said playing whiffle ball as a kid helped him learn to throw from different arm slots: pic.twitter.com/q1B89PoITu
— Alex Weiner (@alexjweiner) October 20, 2023
Houston lost Thompson in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft to the Tampa Bay Rays, where the right-hander got his big break. He reached the majors in 2020 and pitched 120.2 innings for the Rays until they cut him this year.
The D-backs pounced, and now they count on Thompson to record outs deep in the postseason, and he is now two wins away from the World Series. Entering Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the 6-foot-5 reliever has thrown 8.0 innings with three earned runs and eight strikeouts.