Louisville pitcher Jeff Thompson prefers the silent treatment before he tries to silence opposing bats.
OMAHA, Neb. (WDRB) – Don't talk to University of Louisville pitcher Jeff Thompson Monday. Don't call. Don't text. Don't e-mail. Don't even nod in his direction.
You'll be ignored.
No hits. No runs. No distractions. That's the way that Thompson likes it on the days that he pitches. Silence in the clubhouse before silencing the opposing bats.
"Some guys will try to talk to me," Thompson said. "I usually don't answer back. They can talk to me as much as they want. I usually don't hear them. They know I probably won't talk to them so they usually don't mess with me."
Considering how badly U of L needs Thompson to pitch the best game of his life Monday, even head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams are willing to stay 60 feet and 6 inches away from Thompson if it will help him throw strike one, two and three during the College World Series elimination game the Cardinals play against Oregon State at 3 p.m.
"We don't say anything to Jeffrey on game day," McDonnell said. "We just let Jeffrey do his thing. I don't even want to guess the music he's listening to. He's in his own zone, very serious."
That is the Jeff Thompson way. Baseball is a team game. But there is no place on the baseball field where a player feels more alone than the pitcher's mound. Before Thompson begins the job of trying to baffle Oregon State, he will isolate himself even around his teammates.
He will come to breakfast protected by his headphones, which will be thumping to the sounds of his favorite Internet radio station. He does not disclose the genre. Oregon State does not need to know that any more than the Beavers need to know how Thomson plans to attack their hitters.
"Secret," Thompson said. I believe he was kidding, but I'm not certain.
Teammates will try to talk to him. They always do, especially Chad Green, another Louisville starting pitcher. Thompson might grunt. Or groan. But there will be no conversation. Thompson is a 6-foot-6, 248-pound Do Not Disturb Sign.
Not at breakfast. Not on the bus ride to TD Ameritrade Stadium. Not in the locker room. Not even with Williams as Thompson stretches and then starts to throw. Williams understands. Williams has pitched in the kind of game Thompson is pitching Monday.
"Being a former pitcher and knowing that deal, if a guy likes to be in his own world, I'm going to let him stay there," Williams said.
That is the way that it has been all season from Thompson, a tall and angular right-hander with a fastball than runs onto the hands of right-handed hitters and away from lefties.
Don't let the calendar confuse you. Thompson has been Louisville's Number One pitcher, even if he did not start on Friday nights.
That's not me trying to write a more compelling column. That's the vote of people around the Big East, who voted him the league's best pitcher, as well as the opinion of the Detroit Tigers, who selected Thompson in the third round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft before Louisville defeated Vanderbilt in the NCAA Super Regional.
He throws hard. He throws a sharp braking ball. He throws strikes. He throws deep into games. Thompson has won 11 games. He has lost one. He has pitched twice during the NCAA Tournament. He has allowed only 10 baserunners and two runs in 13 innings. Opponents are hitting .130 against him. If Oregon State hits .130 against Thompson Monday, odds are that Louisville plays another elimination game Wednesday.
"Our whole team knows what he brings to the table," Williams said. "Obviously we feel that he can beat anybody if he's on his game and he's making his pitches. There's a certain comfort level knowing that he's fresh and he's ready."
And, of course, unwilling to talk to anybody to make it happen.