Joe Dodson, Staff Writer
Former pitcher Sean Thompson will return to the VCU bullpen as director of pitching development after two years of playing in the minor leagues.
Thompson earned the second most wins in program history with 27 in 37 appearances. He posted 249 strikeouts in 300.1 innings pitched over his four years at VCU.
“It was just a ‘no-brainer’ to come back here and get it started,” Thompson said.
Thompson committed to VCU back in 2014 in part because he connected with head coach Shawn Stiffler over being natives of western Pennsylvania, he said.
“The relationship was always great with the coaching staff,” Thompson said. “That’s the big reason why I’m back here right now.”
As a freshman, Thompson helped VCU advance to the team’s first NCAA Super Regional tournament. He allowed just one run in the Rams’ 3-1 win over Dallas Baptist University in the regional championship game.
After finishing his collegiate career, Thompson signed a free agent deal with the Chicago White Sox, who assigned him to one of their rookie-level clubs, the Arizona League White Sox.
“It’s a different level of competition,” Thompson said. “You are competing against not only the best in America but at that point, you are competing against the best in the world.”
Thompson started in nine of his 13 appearances and threw 31 strikeouts over 36.2 innings. After finishing his first season with a 3.68 earned-run average, Thompson was assigned to another rookie-level team, the Great Falls Voyagers of the Pioneer League.
While in Montana, Thompson threw 66 strikeouts over his 14 starts and increased his earned-run average to 6.08.
Thompson often told Stiffler about his dreams of being a coach, he said. Stiffler would respond with, “Let’s talk when you finish playing.” The White Sox released Thompson in May, and Thompson reached out to Stiffler.
“I was kinda blessed during COVID-19 for my career to end with the White Sox because it was perfect timing to make a seamless transition into coaching,” Thompson said.
Redshirt-senior pitcher Michael Dailey said he saw coaching traits in Thompson during their time pitching together for three seasons.
“We both started my freshman and sophomore year,” Thompson said. “It was really nice to be able to just go under his wing and learn from him.”
Thompson’s responsibilities during practice range from field maintenance to running the pitch tracking technology in the bullpen. After practices or games, Thompson reports back to the coaching staff and analyzes the players’ data.
Thompson pitches in with keeping data in the dugout during away games. At home, Thompson operates the TrackMan radar technology, a tool that tracks the velocity of pitches. Thompson talks to the athletes in between innings about his perspective of the game from the dugout, Dailey said.
“We’ll talk over what we’re doing on the mound and how we’re attacking hitters,” Dailey said. “Seeing weaknesses in the hitters. Really just trying to attack the best we can.”
Freshman pitcher Mason Delane said Thompson analyzes his performance and offers pointers after every game.
“After an outing, whether good or bad, we’ll kind of one-on-one analyze my performance and figure out what I could do better or what I did that was good,” Delane said.
Thompson said he approaches each pitcher differently and tries to find the best way each athlete learns.
“I look at coaching as just being a translator and being able to communicate between the guys,” Thompson said. “Take pretty complex ideas or thoughts, and make it easier for them.”
Delane said Thompson has helped him with different techniques, like breaking balls and locating weaknesses in hitters’ strike zones. Thompson has given advice on how to approach different types of hitters, Delane said.
“He’s offered a lot of little things that he picked up in pro ball,” Delane said. “Little things you wouldn’t normally think of — he’s kinda offered those suggestions as things I can incorporate into my game.”
Thompson’s favorite part of coaching has been the continuity between him, the players and the coaches, he said.
“You come here to build relationships and help leave the program hopefully in a better place than when you left it,” Thompson said.
Moving forward, Thompson hopes to continue stepping up in the coaching ranks, he said. Regardless of the level, he said he’s happy to still be a part of the game he loves.
“I just wanna continue to make an impact and help the game grow,” Thompson said.