Ping-pong returns, and a champion is crowned

March 27th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola's Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

On an otherwise quiet Sunday morning before Marlins big league camp came to a close, a trumpet blared from the batting cages at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex. Then came the obligatory Bad Bunny song and intermittent cheers.

Players, coaches, front-office members and Minor Leaguers alike gathered to witness best  in two sets (11-4, 11-6) in the organization's ping-pong tournament final, which returned this spring for the first time since 2019.

Hampson, who played ping-pong with friends growing up in Reno, Nev., maintained his swing over the years when Minor League clubhouses had a table. But he hadn't played in nearly five years.

“You've got to factor in the nerves, for sure," Hampson said. "I knew I was going to be nervous. I knew he was going to be nervous. It's definitely different when everybody's watching, and it's not your profession, so it's not like you can lean on different things that you've learned over the course of your career. So it's really just trying to hit it back on the other side, but [my ping-pong playing] came back a little bit. I was feeling good out there."

Added Nardi: "It's OK. I got away from my roots and decided to go with the sticky paddle like Hampson, and [I] should have stuck to it and just kept the hard paddle. I messed up."

It was a mixed day for Hampson, who was optioned to Triple-A Jacksonville shortly after. He will have to wait to cash in on his reward: a suite on the road this season.

"It's business, just kind of how the roster is constructed right now," said Hampson, who began the spring as a non-roster invitee before the club selected his contract on March 15. "Get everyday at-bats, which will be nice if you look at the positive. I'll get some at-bats and get feeling good and be ready when they need me."

"I've said throughout the entire spring what I think of Hampson," manager Skip Schumaker said. "His versatility, it's an incredible depth piece to have in case anybody goes down, because he can play everywhere -- literally -- and we trust him when he does come up. I know he's going to come up at some point. These are one of the tougher conversations, because he's been a good big leaguer for a long time, and what he did deserves to be on the team, honestly."