Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson feels like he’s back where he belongs

Racket bags and an extra large suitcase.

In many ways, they were the defining reminders of Trayce Thompson’s transient career path.

In over 13 years in professional baseball, the journeyman has worked in the outfield with nine franchises; played for 19 major and minor league teams; Traded, bought or claimed six times.

At the end of each rotating stint, two things usually happen:

He’s packing his bags to move to a new city, a new clubhouse, a new organization.

And he stashes the old bat bag in his family’s storage unit, adding to a collection that now feels like a kaleidoscope of discarded baseball relics.

“It’s a bit daunting,” he said, “to see all the different colors.”

In fact, the spectrum ranges from Chicago White Sox Black to Oakland Athletic Green, Arizona Diamondback Red to San Diego Padre Brown.

As Thompson reflected on all the recent changes, he couldn’t help but sigh.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Trayce Thompson (right) hits a solo home run ahead of Washington Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz

Trayce Thompson is hitting .295 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 29 games during his current stint with the Dodgers.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“When you come up, you always think you’re going to be with a team,” he admitted. “It was mental wear and tear.”

But then again, he proudly noted, his collection has always featured more Dodger Blue than anything else.

It is the club where he reached the peak of his career six years ago.

And the team that gave him his long-awaited chance back into the majors last month.

“I knew I could get into the big leagues and contribute and re-establish myself and be an influential player,” Thompson said recently, now more than a month away from a trade that took him back to Los Angeles, where he surprises midseason with a .301 batting average, four homers and 17 RBIs in 30 games.

“But doing it here, with a lot of people that I know, a lot of people that I’ve spent a lot of time with, I think the common theme is just special,” he continued. “It’s something I never really thought could happen.”

There was a time when Thompson thought he would stay with the Dodgers for the long haul.

Thompson, a Southland native who attended Santa Margarita High in Orange County, was drafted in the second round by the White Sox in 2009 and traded to the Dodgers after a successful MLB debut in 2015.

He immediately felt at home.

Thompson was on the opening list after 2016 spring training. He quickly developed bonds at his new clubhouse, even moving in with Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Alex Wood.

And in the first half of the campaign that followed, he thrived as a 25-year-old rookie, hitting a .796 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 13 homers in his first 73 games while occasionally hitting as high as third in the lineup.

“He wore for us for a month or two,” recalled manager Dave Roberts.

At the time, Thompson said he “felt like I was going to be here for a while.”

Trayce Thompson of the Dodgers arrives for a spring training baseball game against the Chicago White Sox March 19, 2016

Trayce Thompson of the Dodgers arrives in Phoenix March 19, 2016 for a spring training baseball game against the Chicago White Sox.

(Jae C Hong / Associated Press)

Instead, his career quickly unraveled.

In July, he aggravated a back injury. A few weeks later, an X-ray showed two fractured vertebrae, an injury that ended his season.

His time with the Dodgers was also on the clock.

After bouncing back and forth between Triple A and the major leagues in 2017, Thompson hitting just .122 in 27 games, at the end of the next year’s spring practice, Thompson was picked by the team for action, by the New York Yankees, and then again claimed by waivers the athletics two days later.

“I didn’t play well,” Thompson said of his first stint with the Dodgers. “That’s what matters.”

His next few years weren’t much better: A self-proclaimed “disaster” in 2018 when he batted just .117 in 51 games with the A’s and White Sox; a so-so 2019 season with Cleveland’s Triple-A partner; and a 2020 campaign curtailed by the pandemic that was spent entirely at the Diamondbacks’ alternate training location.

“I’ve only lived out of a big suitcase,” he said with a self-deprecating laugh. “I learned to pack efficiently.”

Despite the setbacks, he didn’t think about retirement.

“The next thing you always think is that you’re going to be with a team. It was mental wear and tear.”

– Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson

“I always knew I was capable,” he said, “so I always saw a light at the end of the tunnel.”

But he was also aware that his career was on the brink.

“I had to dig deep,” he said. “I didn’t want to end my career because I didn’t think I left it all out there.”

Trayce wasn’t the only member of the Thompson family struggling at the time.

While he was working in the minors and trying to rediscover his game, his older brother Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors all-star guard, was bench-bound with a series of serious injuries and missed the entire 2019-20 season with one anterior cruciate ligament tear and throughout 2020-21 with a torn Achilles tendon.

Trayce said Klay came to him for advice on how to deal with disappointment over his back injury and how to cope with the mental struggles of long-term rehab.

However, their talks were effective for Trayce as well.

“Seeing his mental strength, going through all of this and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is similar to what I had to go through,” Trayce said. “Not necessarily because of an injury, just because of the performance and everything that’s happened in my career.

Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson signs autographs for fans while watching the Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants

Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson signs autographs for fans while watching the Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants July 24 at Dodger Stadium.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“I certainly looked at him as an inspiration. He was coming back from two serious injuries when a lot of people were counting him out not knowing if he was going to be who he is or whatever. So I didn’t have an excuse but had to do whatever it took to come back [to the majors] and restore me.”

For Trayce, that meant examining his declining performance “in depth” and figuring out where he went astray.

There were many hours he spent in front of a computer watching and playing videos of his swing and others related to the sport that he admired. He also engaged in a lot of “self-talk” and attempted to replenish his psyche with “confidence and conviction.”

Here, too, Klay provided family motivation.

“My brother is a good example of that, a guy who never shy away from a moment, never shy away from a particular shot,” Trayce said. “He’s a guy I’m learning from.”

When Klay returned to the court last fall and won a fourth NBA title with the Warriors, Trayce eventually returned to the majors for the first time in three years and was called up by the Chicago Cubs last season after hitting 21 home runs during the triple-A season.

“Mentally, I had to reevaluate myself … and sort of find myself again,” Thompson said. “I feel like these last few years, really starting in 19, have been a journey in that direction.”

Two days before he was due to celebrate Klay’s triumphant return to the Warriors Championship Parade last month, Mychal Thompson sat in a Bay Area hotel room and witnessed his other son’s latest turning point in real time.

After signing with the Padres this spring and being released after just six MLB games, Trayce was back in the Minors and distinguished himself for the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in his latest attempt to revive his career.

“It felt like he was home again. It was his dream to put on the Dodger uniform again.”

– Mychal Thompson, father of Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson

During Father’s Day afternoon on June 19, in a game Mychal was watching live on his computer from his hotel room, Trayce hit a single in the sixth inning that increased his season batting average to .299.

Mychal was delighted. Then he was confused.

In the seventh inning, Trayce was unexpectedly pulled out of the game.

Oh no, Thought Mychal. Was Trayce hurt?

Shortly thereafter, however, Mychal’s phone rang. Trayce was on the other end of the line.

“Hey, Dad,” Trayce said. “I just got traded.”

Where?

“The Dodgers,” his son blurted out excitedly.

Dodgers' Trayce Thompson points to the stands after hitting a triple home run

Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson points to the stands after hitting a triple home run against the Colorado Rockies July 4 at Dodger Stadium.

(Kyusung Gong/Associated Press)

Mychal immediately saw the importance, knowing all too well the feelings his son had for the organization – the blue keepsakes he had kept in their storage unit all these years.

“Every hair on my body stood up,” the former Lakes center recently recalled. “It felt like he was home again. It was his dream to put on the Dodger uniform again.”

Mychal added, “It was an answer to my prayers.”

Tracye, meanwhile, has helped solve some of the Dodgers’ midseason problems.

When they suffered some injuries in the outfield, baseball operations president Andrew Friedman said the team immediately went for the right-hander.

“He made a strong impression while he was here,” Friedman said. “He was someone we watched closely and always rooted for.”

And in his longest big-league stint since 2018, Trayce has flashed his trademarks — it’s a small sample size, but his .542 slugging percentage is the best on the team — and a strong outfield defense coupled with newfound consistency on Teller’s plate.

“Having Trayce comfortable and knowing his surroundings gave him the best chance to perform right from the start, I think,” Roberts said. “He’s a guy you can’t bet against.”

Trayce’s role for the remainder of the season remains unclear.

Chris Taylor is about to return after breaking a foot. The Dodgers were reportedly in the market for another racquet ahead of Tuesday’s close.

Still, Trayce hasn’t had a new trip to the storage unit lately; no sign that he will have to pack his suitcase again any time soon.

Just being back in the majors — and especially the Dodgers — has been a fulfilling first step for now.

“A lot of teams may not have read that out of me, which is okay,” he said. “But I always knew I was capable of being here.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-07-30/back-in-majors-dodgers-trayce-thompson-is-where-he-belongs Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson feels like he’s back where he belongs

Emma Bowman

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