UNIVERSITY PARK — It was just before 6:15 p.m. Tuesday when Nick Thompson jogged onto Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, a moment officially marking the start of his professional baseball career with the State College Spikes.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ eighth-round pick out of the College of William and Mary admitted he felt some anxiety building during his six-plus-hour drive from his hometown of Chesapeake, Va., on Monday.
When he arrived in State College, his nerves settled. A day later, he took fly balls and batting practice on his first day as a member of the Spikes.
“It was great to get back on the field,” Thompson said. “I had my physical yesterday, it went well and literally signed my contract right before I ran out on the field while they were stretching. It was pretty surreal. It was a really, really good feeling.”
Thompson is the first Cardinals’ draft pick to officially join the Spikes roster for this season. Shortstop Andrew Sohn and pitchers Daniel Poncedeleon and Cody Schumacher were also at Medlar Field for Tuesday’s workout, but they could only watch.
Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said they will each go for physicals Wednesday, and once they’re cleared, they’ll sign and join the team on the field.
After being selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft last weekend, the latest Spikes’ additions will be getting ready for State College’s season opener at Williamsport on Friday.
“Our scouts do a tremendous job of getting some good athletes and some guys that can play the game at a high level,” Marmol said. “So it’s fun to see them for the first time, fun to see what they’re capable of doing and then kind of putting up a game plan to get them better, develop them.”
Marmol had a chance to see Thompson in action on Tuesday.
After getting just 66 at bats as a sophomore at East Carolina, Thompson transferred to William and Mary for this season. He led the Tribe with a .368 batting average in 231 at bats.
The Cardinals drafted him after the standout season, another exciting moment for Thompson in the past week.
“I guess it hit me when I first saw the stadium here,” Thompson said. “But it’s been a thrilling couple of days. Getting the call Friday, and the St. Louis Cardinals telling me they’re going to draft me and to actually see and hear your name is another thing that’s pretty fantastic.”
Sohn, the Cardinals’ sixth-round pick out of Western Michigan, made the seven-plus-hour drive from his home north of Detroit on Monday.
He said he tried to stay away from watching the draft, but he happened to see the Cardinals making their sixth-round pick on the computer last Friday afternoon.
“The time I walked in, the St. Louis Cardinals were picking and literally that pick, they picked me,” Sohn said. “So it was a weird coincidence that I walked in at that time, and I just went crazy and my family and friends were there so it was a lot of fun.”
Sohn hit .337 as a sophomore and .323 as a junior this year to pace the Broncos. He said he wanted to take the next step in his career rather than return for his senior campaign.
“I really, honestly just wanted to start pro ball,” Sohn said. “So it doesn’t matter if it was the sixth round or the 20th round, I probably would have signed and came here and played and start my career.”
Poncedeleon was ready to start his professional career a year ago.
The Chicago Cubs took the right-handed pitcher in the 14th round of the 2013 draft, and he agreed to terms to sign a contract pending his physical.
There was one problem.
“I failed the physical there due to the nerve placement in my elbow, that’s what the Cubs’ doctor said,” Poncedeleon said. “They didn’t like it. So I didn’t really ask too many questions, I just got up and moved on because it just didn’t make sense to me because you have all these guys getting Tommy John surgery and they’re still getting drafted and picked up. Mine was just the nerve placement.”
Because he signed to agree to terms with the Cubs, he lost his amateur status with the NCAA and could not return to the University of Houston. He only had weeks in the winter to find a new school and landed at NAIA program Embry-Riddle (Fla.), where he went 9-2 with a 1.60 ERA in 14 starts.
Now, he’s finally getting his start after being drafted for the fourth time – in the ninth round by St. Louis.
“It feels good because I wanted to go out last year and it didn’t end up working out,” Poncedeleon said. “I’m happy I got another opportunity to play, especially with the St. Louis Cardinals.”
Schumacher was the Cardinals’ 36th-round pick out of Missouri State.
The right-handed pitcher led the Bears with a 2.45 ERA as a senior. He finished 6-2 in 12 starts.
Missouri State shares its home stadium, Hammons Field, with the Class AA Springfield Cardinals, so Schumacher is familiar with the St. Louis organization.
“I’m definitely excited to kind of get this whole thing started, this new journey, this new chapter and I’m looking forward to it about as much as anybody possibly could,” Schumacher said. “It’s a kid’s dream, so I’m definitely excited to be here.”
Follow Ryne Gery on Twitter @rgery