UNIVERSITY PARK — When Nick Thompson arrived at the College of William and Mary in January, baseball was his first priority.
Thompson spent last fall working to complete his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in two-and-a-half years at East Carolina, where his opportunities on the diamond were limited. He knew that would change with the Tribe.
And he made the most of his lone season at William and Mary, hitting .368 to lead the team and grab the attention of Major League scouts.
The St. Louis Cardinals selected Thompson in the eighth round of the First-Year Player Draft last week. He arrived in State College on Monday and made his Spikes’ debut Friday in the team’s season-opening win over Williamsport.
Thompson batted cleanup and played left field in the Spikes’ 6-2 win over Williamsport at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Saturday, going 0 for 4 with a run and an RBI as the team improved to 2-0.
Thompson plans to go to medical school one day, but right now, his priority is baseball.
“Now that I’m here, this is really an age-dependent game, so I’m going to take this as long as it will go,” Thompson said. “Hopefully 20 years, but you never know, it could be a year, could be five.”
Thompson put himself in position to play professionally with his transfer to William and Mary after getting just 84 combined at bats in two seasons at East Carolina.
He said he arrived at the campus in Greenville, N.C., with 57 hours of coursework finished through Advanced Placement courses he took in high school. That took care of a slew of introductory courses and helped Thompson graduate early.
He took 20 hours of credits last fall to finish his bachelor’s degree.
At William and Mary, he started his master’s in molecular biology, but more importantly, he finally got a chance to make a difference on the field with 231 at-bats.
Thompson started to hear from more scouts in February after a hot start with the Tribe that led to first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors.
“Going into William and Mary, I knew I was going to have an opportunity,” Thompson said, “and really whatever I did with that opportunity was what became of it — coming to the Cardinals organization has been thrilling.”
Thompson hit fourth as the Spikes’ designated hitter in the team’s 10-3 win over Williamsport on Friday at Bowman Field.
He worked a full count before lining a two-run single into left field as part of State College’s six-run fifth inning. Thompson finished 1 for 5 and scored a run.
“It was good to get the first one under my belt,” Thompson said. “Always say the first one’s the hardest, the first hit of the year, first home run of the year, whatever it may be.”
Thompson credits his success this spring in college to his approach at the plate.
“It definitely takes nine guys to be a productive hitter,” Thompson said. “But then just being aggressively selective, per se. That’s probably the best way to put it, and I think that’s part of the reason why the Cardinals chose me, that’s kind of their mentality at the plate as well.”
Spikes manager Oliver Marmol’s noticed that approach so far with Thompson in the cleanup spot.
“When we got him in the draft, we knew we were getting a pretty good bat,” Marmol said. “We threw him in the four-hole the first game, and he did a nice job. He handled it well and he put together some really good, quality at-bats.
“He has an idea of the strike zone and has some strength, so I think he’ll do a nice job for us there.”
Thompson has enjoyed his first week in professional baseball.
He said he’s looking into a career in orthopedics, but he’s putting his master’s degree on the backburner, with no plans to work on it in the offseason.
Medical school can wait, too.
He’s going to play baseball for as long as he can.
“Hopefully it’s 20 years,” Thompson said with a smile, “but you never know.”
Notes: Ian McKinney will start for State College at Williamsport on Sunday. McKinney, a left-hander, went 1-0 with a 0.89 ERA in 30 1/3 innings for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals last season. … David Whitehead, a right-hander, will start for the Crosscutters. … The Spikes return home to close out the series with Williamsport on Monday and then host Batavia from Tuesday to Thursday.