On baseball’s back fields, independent leaguers still dream of majors

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“Those stories are cool. It is fun to see. That gene is still in them to produce at a high level in this game.”

***

Daryl Thompson doesn’t have Kazmir’s past. He may never have his present, either. Or maybe he will. That’s why he is wearing the Blue Crabs uniform.

The team plays minutes from his home in La Plata, just down Route 301 from Waldorf. The Montreal Expos drafted Thompson out of La Plata High School in 2003. Three years later, he was the player to be named in a huge deal between the Nationals and the Reds.

He had only low-level experience in the minors by then. Yet he was in Cincinnati in 2008 and was once thought of as a potential rotation regular.

Beset by shoulder problems, he only made three starts in the majors in 2008 and another one in 2011. He has an 0-3 career record and an 8.31 career ERA.

For the Blue Crabs, he won two games in 11 appearances last season. He was 6-4 through his first 14 starts this year, with a 3.27 ERA.

He’s only 27, which makes him one of the youngest Blue Crabs. His shoulder feels good. He still has time.

“If I could do it all again the same way, I would,” Thompson said. “I made a couple of mistakes but things are going well now.

“My main goal is obviously to get back to the major leagues and I want to keep rolling with that, keep my confidence going. But you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. One start at a time. I feel like this league will make me a better pitcher than I was before, and it has already done that.

“I have a lot better velocity than I had before. I’m making pitches. I’m a lot smarter on the mound.”

He learned quickly, he said, that being a former major leaguer didn’t make him anything special among his Atlantic League peers.

“When I first got here, my first game I was kind of underestimating the players in this league, underestimating the league in general,” Thompson said. “My first start, they kind of showed me this is not a walk in the park. These guys can play. You’re going to get good competition in this league. You have guys throwing the ball well, guys who will hit your mistakes. There are a lot of ex-big leaguers here and some guys who probably should be now.”

***

Some of them will get there. Most won’t. As long as there’s that chance, Osborn and his colleagues won’t have trouble filling the uniforms.

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