Another baseball season, another summer in North Carolina.
Tommy Thompson is so used to spending his summers between Kannapolis and Winston-Salem that he often keeps some of his belongings in storage between the two minor league cities.
Thompson is in his third stint as manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Chicago White Sox’s low-Class A farm team. He’s the franchise’s only manager to spend three nonconsecutive seasons with the team since it moved to Kannapolis in 1995.
Starting in 2011, Thompson has been the Intimidators’ manager in every odd year, spending the even-numbered years with the White Sox’s high-Class A affiliate in Winston-Salem.
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Ken Oberkfell is the only other manager to spend a total of three seasons with the franchise. He directed the Piedmont Boll Weevils in 1997-99 when it was affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I love it here,” said Thompson. “It’s a tremendous place to stay and work for six months and develop young talent.”
Lower-level minor league managers often move with the frequency of the players they manage. Each of the previous times Thompson led a Kannapolis team, many of the players moved up to Winston-Salem the following year with him.
It could happen again next year, though he’s not likely to find out until after the current season is over.
“Kannapolis and Winston-Salem are two great cities,” said Thompson, who has been a minor league manager or coach since 1988. “They also support the players and the game of baseball well. I’ve (managed) for a long time. I’ll do anything the White Sox want me to do.”
Thompson, 57, played 774 games as a minor leaguer between 1979, when he was drafted in the 28th round by the Atlanta Braves, and 1988. He reached the Triple A level, but never played in the big leagues.
In 1990 and 1991, Thompson managed for the first time in Utica, N.Y., and South Bend, Ind. From 1992-2005, he was the White Sox’s minor league roving catching instructor, a job he says is a lot “easier” than the daily grind and responsibilities of being a manager.
Thompson re-entered managing in 2007, leading a Baltimore Orioles Class A team in Frederick, Md. His team won the Carolina League championship in 2007.
Thompson spent one season managing the independent Frontier League Windy City Thunderbolts in Crestwood, Ill.
Once he rejoined the White Sox, Thompson spent one season as a roving minor league assistant coach before landing in Kannapolis in 2011.
As a career minor league player/coach/manager, Thompson considers one of his mentors to be Bobby Dews, who played, coached, and managed in professional baseball for more than 40 years. Dews managed Thompson in Durham in the early 1980s.
A native of Oklahoma, Thompson currently resides in Boca Raton, Fla. His wife and Australian shepherd/whippet – a dog that is just as much a member of the family – live with him during the baseball season.
Thompson says he models some of his managing philosophies after Major League greats Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella. Both were World Series-winning managers and both had reputations for his feistiness with umpires.
Thompson has developed a reputation of his own for his antics while disputing umpires’ calls. Just search his name on YouTube. Thompson attributes it to being a former catcher and the position’s proximity to the home plate umpire.
“He’s full of energy,” said Charlotte native Brett Austin, a catcher in his second season in Kannapolis. “He’s definitely a player’s coach. He knows the game. He’s smart. He’s interactive with his players. He keeps things loose. That’s what I like and I’m sure the other guys do, too.”
Randy Long, the Intimidators’ general manager, likes the luxury of a manager who already is familiar with the team, the facility and the community.
“We love having Tommy back here in Kannapolis,” said Long. “He has a great relationship with the front office staff and the fans. They know and love his antics and his personality which is great. He does a great job with the players on the development side. He’s organized and brings a lot of energy to it.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.