Thompson's MLB debut a special family affair

July 26th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- Immediately upon hearing his son had made the Rays’ Opening Day roster, Ed Thompson notified his job and jumped on a plane in Portland, Ore.

In a normal world, Ed would’ve arrived at Tampa International Airport and been greeted by Rays reliever in order to celebrate the right-hander’s first big league callup. The two probably would've embraced, grabbed a bite to eat, and then Ed would’ve headed to Tropicana Field to watch Ryan take the ball in a Major League game for the first time.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ed knew he wouldn’t be able to do any of that, or even have contact with his son. That didn’t stop Ed from being as close as he could while his son lived out his dream -- even if it meant being at least six feet apart.

“Ryan is a big family person,” Ed said. “I just couldn’t imagine him being in the big leagues, or pitching, or just being there and not having someone to talk to after the game. I know he could call everybody, but it just feels like he’s all on an island by himself. Throughout his whole career, we made sure -- our whole family made sure -- that he didn’t feel like that.”

Instead of being inside the ballpark, Ed watched the game at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill a short walk away. He wasn’t expecting Ryan to get into the game on Friday, but when he saw his son warming up to enter a big league game, the emotions took over.

Ed began to run around the bar, fist-bumping and shouting each time Ryan recorded an out. Those actions had everyone in the bar wondering whether Ed was watching his son pitch in a big league game for the first time.

“They would come up to me and be like, 'Hey, that kid must be your son or something,’” Ed recalled. “I was just like, 'Hell yeah, it is!.' It was just really cool.”

Pitching in the Major Leagues was a dream come true for Ryan, but it was also something he wanted to accomplish for his father, who dreamed of being a big leaguer from the time he was a kid right up through his one season at Western Oregon University. Ed never achieved his dream, but watching Ryan take the mound on Saturday was every bit as sweet.

“We’ve been fighting for this dream since I was five,” Ryan said. “He’s my rock in this game. He’s the guy that, even though he’s not familiar with a lot of the analytics -- and how could you be with how fast the game is changing? -- but he’s still able to keep me grounded instead of being caught up in some of these things.”

When he was 10, Ryan remembers wanting to quit baseball because he was, “being a little rebel.” His father kept him on track though, and made sure that he continued following his dreams even when it got difficult. That was particularly true when Ryan went to Campbell University and participated in his first Hell Week that included pushing tires, 6-minute-mile runs and other intense cardio workouts.

“He would call me every night,” Ed said, “and tell me that he didn’t know if he could do it.”

Ryan spent his first four seasons with the Astros’ organization before he was selected by the Rays in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft. Ryan said the Rays' organization “saved his career” because Tampa Bay took a chance on him despite his being injured. Ryan underwent Tommy John surgery at the beginning of '18 to correct a nagging issue that kept him from pitching in the Majors and what ultimately made the Astros decide to leave him exposed during the Rule 5 Draft.

In 2019, Ryan, a sidearmer, had recovered from the procedure and made 16 appearances between Class A Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, posting a 2.70 ERA and striking out 25 in 23 1/3 innings. Now that Ryan is fully healthy, the Rays expect the righty to contribute in a loaded Tampa Bay bullpen.

Ryan made his big league debut on Friday and tossed two scoreless innings against the Blue Jays. As he arrived at the ballpark, Ryan thought about his journey: Under-recruited out of high school, 23rd-round Draft pick, Tommy John surgery and mentally dealing with an organization that essentially gave up on him.

Ryan also thought about all the people who helped him achieve his dream. Coaches at Campbell, Minor League coaches and teammates and most importantly, his father, who watched Ryan's debut from a block away.

After the game, the two met in the parking lot, standing six parking spaces apart. It’s not exactly how either envisioned the moment when it finally arrived, but Ryan admitted there were many times where the thought of it never happening crept into his thoughts.

“[My dad] was really emotional, and he was just so happy that [after] everything that we’ve been through, it finally came true,” Ryan said. “We were talking about all the struggles we went through, all the times when we weren’t sure it was going to happen and all the ups and downs. Reminiscing was great.”