Thompson gains valuable life lessons with Team USA
By Andy Fledderjohann, Athletics Media Relations
It has been quite the year for Jacob Thompson.
First, the Virginia pitcher recorded one of the best seasons ever for a UVa hurler with a perfect 11-0 record and a 1.50 earned run average. Then the right-hander was selected to pitch for the USA Baseball National Team over the summer.
Thompson was impressive throughout the summer with a 1.27 ERA in five starts. For his efforts, he earned the starting nod on the mound in the Americans’ Pan American Games gold medal contest against Cuba in Rio de Janero, Brazil.
“I can’t even put into words the feeling I had starting that gold medal game,” Thompson said. “We had a good shot and only lost 3-1 but with a hit here or there, or by making a pitch here or there, we definitely could have won it.”
While the Americans settled for a silver medal, the experience of representing his country was a memorable one for Thompson.
“Sean Doolittle told me that every time you put the USA jersey on, you’ll get chills standing for the national anthem, and I thought that was just a myth, but it was awesome,” Thompson said.
The trip to Brazil was an eye-opener for Thompson. It marked his first excursion outside the United States.
“I really don’t like to fly, so I was nervous about the whole trip,” Thompson said. “We landed there and it was like nothing I had ever seen. We stayed in a village that was like a little resort, and it was really cool.
“We got to see Christ the Redeemer, which is the seventh wonder of the world and the statue the overlooks Rio. That was neat. We went to the Coco Cabana beach, but unfortunately it was winter down there so we didn’t get to see much. But it was fun. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The experience not only was valuable to Thompson the baseball player, but to Thompson the person.
“I did a lot of growing up,” Thompson said. “I thought I knew a lot, but when it came down to it, as far as baseball and knowing other cultures, I didn’t really know much at all. I gained a lot from that. I learned to appreciate everything that I have.”
This appreciation encompassed a lot of things, from basic living conditions to the UVa baseball experience.
“I usually complain a lot over things not going right, but there were several times down there where I actually saw sewage running down onto the streets and kids running around barefoot,” Thompson said. “It really made me appreciate what we have up here.
“Playing here at Virginia and hearing some of the other guys talk, we’re spoiled here with all of the things we have. With our facilities and the support from the community, we have one of the best situations out there. We really are fortunate and I appreciate that.”
Thompson is the fourth UVa baseball player to participate for the national team over the last four years. Ryan Zimmerman (2004) and Sean Doolittle (2005 and 2006) also earned the honor. Former UVa player Mark Reynolds (2006) played on the USA National Team which won the Olympic Qualifying tournament to earn a spot in the 2008 Olympics.
“The USA Baseball experience not only is a tremendous honor, but it will be a huge benefit for Jacob,” Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor said. “He had the opportunity to play against some of the top players in the world, which is a great experience. Sean Doolittle and Ryan Zimmerman each had the same opportunity and found it to be a tremendous experience both on the field and off.”
After his summer experience with USA Baseball, Thompson already echoes those sentiments and recognizes he has plenty of room for improvement a scary thought for the 2007 First Team All-American.
“The main thing I would take from it is you can never be too boastful because there are so many good ballplayers out there,” Thompson said. “Playing in the ACC, we see a ton of great players each week, but there are guys all over the country who are great players. I still have a lot of things to work on in order to improve as a pitcher.”