The goose bumps go generations deep for a former Citadel slugger drafted by the New York Yankees last summer and assigned to the Charleston RiverDogs this season. Bo Thompson’s late grandfather loved the Yankees, and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson is one of his mother’s favorite baseball players.
Thompson got to meet Jackson, a Yankees’ front office assistant and former World Series star, during a RiverDogs trip to Asheville two weeks ago.
“That was unbelievable,” said Thompson, a 5-10, 255-pound first baseman. “My mom used to show me videos of Reggie Jackson and then I finally got to see him. I was definitely star-struck.”
Now Thompson is focused on settling in and improving his .213 batting average as the RiverDogs open an nine-game Class A South Atlantic League homestand Saturday night at Riley Park against the Rome Braves.
It helps to play on a familiar diamond – The Citadel shares The Joe with the RiverDogs –with friendly faces in the stands. A June 25-29 trip to Greenville was fun for Thompson, a graduate of Greenville’s J.L. Mann High School.
“It’s been great playing Charleston,” he said. “The first game I played in, I had all my Citadel buddies and other friends I met throughout college. Playing in Greenville I had lots of family and friends.”
As always in minor league baseball, the window of opportunity for advancement doesn’t stay open long. The Yankees have signed two of the four first basemen they picked in the 2015 draft last month, Michigan State’s Ryan Krill (eighth round) and Morehead State’s Kane Sweeney (29th round).
To stay ahead, Thompson is making the most of his time with RiverDogs hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, a 13-year Major League veteran and Mount Pleasant resident who was the Boston Red Sox hitting coach during their 2013 World Series run.
“When I was at The Citadel, I had a sports management class taught by Andy Solomon and he got Greg Colbrunn to come in and talk to us,” Thompson said. “So it was kind of wild when I was driving from Tampa (spring training camp) to Charleston this year. I realized I already knew the hitting coach and I couldn’t wait to work with him. Colby’s mindset as a hitting coach is amazing.”
Thompson hit two homers in 99 rookie league at-bats in 2014 after the Yankees picked him in the 13th round of the draft as a Citadel junior. The start to his 2015 season was delayed by a 50-game suspension Major League Baseball handed down late last August when Thompson tested positive for amphetamines banned as part of baseball’s drug program — a “paperwork mistake” in which Thompson forgot to notify the Yankees of a prescription medication, he said.
Thompson has gradually improved since coming to the RiverDogs from the Yankees’ extended spring training camp in Tampa on June 3. He was hitting .167 on June 21. Five of his 10 hits are doubles, but he is still looking for that first RiverDogs home run.
“I went through a little dry spell but now I’m just trying to get in the batting cage and do some extra work, try to see more pitches,” Thompson said. “The biggest part with me is trying to see more pitches and going up to the plate knowing that I have three strikes. As (Colbrunn) says, you have to work with those three strikes.”
The RiverDogs will recognize first-team members of The Post and Courier’s All-Lowcountry high school baseball and softball teams prior to their game against the Rome Braves at Riley Park on Monday night.
The players will be honored on the field and the ceremony is scheduled to begin at 6:40 p.m.
The Rome Braves’ roster includes pitcher Touki Toussaint, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2014 first-round draft pick acquired June 21 in a trade sending infielder Phil Gosselin to Arizona and pitcher Bronson Arroyo to Atlanta. But Toussaint is scheduled to pitch Friday night in Rome and will not get a start in Charleston.
Other top Braves prospects at Rome include shortstop Ozhaino Albies, left fielder Braxton Davidson and pitcher Ricardo Sanchez.
The RiverDogs will wear a black ribbon around the left sleeve of their home and road jerseys for the rest of the season as a tribute to the nine Emanuel AME Church members shot to death on June 17.
After the season, the RiverDogs will put the home jerseys up for auction and will donate the proceeds to a local charity with direct ties to the tragedy. The road jerseys will also be auctioned off for charity at a time that has yet to be determined.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff