Baseball represents something different to each player. For Cal Poly first baseman J.J. Thompson, it represents a constant battle.
“(Baseball) can beat you up, spit on you and then, all of a sudden, make you the best player in the world,” Thompson said. “This game will knock you down quite a bit, but it will teach you to bounce back from anything.”
Thompson has fought his way to the top this season. After what was a constant battle to stay in the starting lineup throughout his Cal Poly career, Thompson is now one of the top hitters. In 31 appearances, Thompson is second on the team with a .342 batting average, tied for first with 10 doubles and tied for fourth with 14 RBIs.
It’s been reprieve for Thompson, who batted .211 with 11 RBIs in his freshman season. Thompson then surged in his sophomore year, batting .292 and finishing fourth on the team with seven home runs and 41 RBIs.
Last season, however, Thompson’s improvement waned as he fought to maintain a .200 average.
“Every year there is always a point where you feel like ‘How does it get any worse?’” Thompson said. “Then it does, and you want to give up. But then you get some success, and you start rolling with it again.”
That point came for Thompson early in the 2010 Big West Conference schedule.
Thompson remembers being on the road sitting in a hot tub with fellow former Cal Poly center fielder Adam Melker. Thompson said the two, feeling helpless about their struggles on the field, reflected on how they could improve.
“We were just talking about what to do,” Thompson said. “We came to the fact that we both worked really hard, and we deserved success. We just realized we had to stop caring about the results and focus more on having fun and playing the game the right way.”
It was there Thompson would rediscover the success he had been searching for all season long.
In a series versus Long Beach State, Thompson went 7-for-12 with two doubles, two triples and a home run. He continued the rest of the season in the same fashion, finishing the remainder of the Big West Conference schedule batting 17-for-40.
He carried that momentum over to this season, where he is an integral part of the Mustangs’ success. Thompson said he feels like a lot of pressure has been taken off him in his senior year, and he is focusing more on his mental strength.
“(Head coach Larry) Lee talks about mental strength all the time,” Thompson said. “Being mentally stronger than the game, than the opponent, than the pitcher, than the situation and just realizing that you are going to fail a lot in this game, and you’ve got to keep pushing on and success will come.”
Lee said Thompson has become one of their most productive first basemen, especially on the defensive end.
“J.J. Thompson is my best defensive first basemen,” Lee said. “What we ask of our first basemen is just to take care of things and make decisions.”
With all the ups and downs, Thompson said the most memorable part of Cal Poly baseball has always been his teammates.
“I like all the guys and how everyone works hard,” Thompson said. “They all like to have fun outside of baseball and the locker room. There are just so many good memories, it’s hard to even say which one was best.”
For Thompson, the person who he shared the most memories with was previous roommate Melker.
Melker said Thompson was a good person to have as a friend and teammate. Even when the team was in its down cycles, Thompson was the person to always have a smile on his face, he said.
“I just enjoy every day with J.J.; he’s just a great kid,” Melker said. “He’s hilarious, smart, witty and just a fun guy to be around. He works hard; he’s a guy you always want to be around all the time, he makes you laugh and makes you smile every day. His humor always rubs off on you.”
Though Thompson is unsure of where his career will take him after Cal Poly, he is sure baseball will always be a part of his life.
Thompson said he wants to return home, and be a mentor to his younger brother Matt Thompson, a high school freshman at Thompson’s alma mater, Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, Wash.
“He’s at the age where you can give more in depth instruction on how to play the game,” Thompson said. “I’ve helped train and teach his friends, too, over the years just because I want to. So when I get back I might try to get in touch and train some kids.”
Thompson said he wants to help his brother succeed because he did not have someone mentor him.
“Growing up, I didn’t have any older guys, telling me ‘This is what you need to focus on,’” Thompson said. “I learned more from trial and error. It would have been nice to have a guy that had been through it and given that type of feedback.”
But before the Cal Poly senior starts planning for his future, his eyes are set squarely on a return to a NCAA Division I Regional berth.