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Athletic Thompson family reaches new heights

Klay Thompson's brother Trayce Thompson makes MLB debut

POSTED: Aug 5, 2015 1:33 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Mychal Thompson, Trayce, brothers Mychel and Klay, uncle John Leslie and cousin Mitch after Trayce's MLB debut.

— Babe Ruth struck out in his first at-bat. So did Ted Williams. And now so has Trayce Thompson, whose Major League debut Tuesday night as a pinch-hitter for the Chicago White Sox lasted four pitches, produced a skidload of memories and paid off on a lifetime of work, focus and dreams.

Thompson's lone at-bat at U.S. Cellular Field represented a crossroads of MLB and NBA. Not in his personal showdown against Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer, who dispatched Thompson deftly -- the newbie chasing a 1-2 breaking ball that dropped down and away -- in the bottom of the seventh of what already was a 10-1 blowout.

No, it was the intersection of Thompson with his family watching from behind home plate, 26 rows up: father and former NBA star Mychal, older brothers Mychel and Klay and mother Julie, along with uncle John and cousin Mitch. They were all there as Trayce became the 18,578th player in Major League history (by baseball-reference.com's count) but first from their clan to achieve this particular sort of sports success.

Trayce said he peeked up there before he walked to the plate.

"I looked up at them in the stands once I got on deck," he said afterward. "I was thinking a lot about my mom. All the sacrifices she made to get me here."

The Thompsons had learned over the weekend -- with some dispute over which brother leaked the news on Twitter from there -- Trayce was getting called up from Class AAA Charlotte to fill in as the White Sox's fourth outfielder. So they descended on the city's South Side from southern California, waited through his DNP-CD Monday -- that's not actually a baseball term but you get the point -- then got their payoff late Tuesday, a small cluster of excitement in a game that had largely drained The Cell of any.

The family's plans had them scattering Wednesday, making it tough to catch the White Sox's getaway matinee.

What I did was great, I appreciate it and I treasure it. But seeing your kids succeed, that's 'infinity better.' I get more joy out of their success than anything I've ever done in my life.

– Mychal Thompson

"Just to get in the game for them to see was definitely a blessing," Trayce said. "It was an unfortunate situation, us losing and the at-bat I had. But that's baseball -- we're going to lose more games and I'm going to have a lot more bad at-bats in my life. I'm just happy I got the first one out of the way."

His dad felt the same way after squirming in his seat with each of Archer's offerings.

"Butterflies," Mychal said. "I felt like I was in The Finals again, just getting so nervous and so excited at the same time. He was aggressive. Can't leave your bat on your shoulder."

That's not how the Thompsons roll. This summer has kicked the family's remarkable sports success to another level. Klay, the middle son, added an NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors to add to the two their old man won (with the Lakers in 1987 and '88). Mychel, at 27 and the oldest, just signed a contract to play this season in Italy after a two-month stay with Cleveland in 2011-12 and four seasons in the NBA D-League (11.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg).

Now Trayce, whose career dipped into the relative shadows soon after he was drafted out of high school in the second round in 2009, was getting his time to shine again. All it took was 734 minor league games and 3,140 plate appearances spread across seven seasons, five levels from instructional ball to the high minors, eight different uniforms, five states and two countries (including 2013 winter ball in Caracas, Venezuela).

He was hiting .260 with 23 doubles, four triples, 13 home runs, 53 runs, 23 walks and 11 stolen bases with Charlotte and had been named an International League midseason All-Star. But there had been all sorts of ups, downs, turnarounds and setbacks before this week's big call-up.

"It's special because Trayce has been there so often for us," Mychal said early in the game, his knees seeking relief even in the pricey seats. "Through the Lakers success when I've been broadcasting games. Klay getting drafted and his journey with the Warriors. Trayce was battling in the minor leagues sort of anonymously, and now we have a chance to support him on the big stage. We had to be here."

Father's Day -- Klay and Mychal Thompson

2-time NBA Champion Mychal Thompson enjoys watching his son, Klay, win a title of his own.

That's what Trayce thinks too -- he had to be here. As humbling as baseball can be, he claims he never has wavered in his conviction that he would reach the major leagues.

Neither did his family, long odds or not.

"He's a five-tool player," Mychal said. "And he has a level head. I always tell him, 'No matter what kind of slump you're in or how well you're going, always keep a level mind and keep the confidence up.' I always use Kobe Bryant as an example. No matter what kind of game Kobe's having or what kind of week, he never loses confidence in himself."

Mychal's pep talks via phone calls to Kannapolis, N.C., or Birmingham, Ala., was vital to keeping Trayce's confidence high. But beyond that, neither he nor Julie poked or prodded, staying true to the tactics they deployed with Mychel and Klay as basketball prodigies.

"They never forced sports on us. That's why I'm playing baseball," Trayce said in the White Sox clubhouse Tuesday afternoon. "My dad never once forced basketball on me and my mom, she just wanted us to be happy. You'll never see my mom on camera or cheering -- she's cheering but she'll sit as far away as possible and just watch us and let us be happy. She doesn't want any of the spotlight, but we couldn't be here without her.

"My dad, he's just more on camera because people know who he is. It's pretty easy to spot a tall, bald, 6-foot-9 guy."

Julie played volleyball at the University of San Francisco before she met and married Mychal in 1987. The three boys came fast, in a span of 33 months from June 1988 to March 1991. A month later, Mychal retired as an NBA player.

Mychal Thompson Julie Thompson
Mychal and Julie Thompson take in the game.

The two oldest boys -- Mychel's 6-foot-6, Klay 6-foot-7 -- gravitated to basketball but their father recalls Trayce, now 6-foot-3, walking around at age 4 with a toy bat in his grasp. They all had to be careful at home, lest one of them turn a corner just as Trayce was working on his swing.

The dream of what he's doing now took hold in tee ball. Before the family's move to California, they lived in Oregon.

"Growing up in the Northwest, Ken Griffey Jr. was always my guy," Trayce said. "And watching the Mariners, that whole team of the 90s, with Edgar Martinez, Griffey, Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson, all those guys. A-Rod. It was definitely inspiring. You can ask my brothers -- I mean, I still have Griffey posters up in my room."

Said Mychal, who grew up in the Bahamas with only sketchy basketball opportunities: "I've got to admit, the only time I kind of advised them not to play a certain sport, it was football. I was concerned about neck and head injuries, concussions, like we see today. ... I told them, 'Don't play high school football if you don't want to be a college football player. Because your body will just get beat up.' "

Besides some encouragement -- and the talking he does as Lakers broadcast analyst and an ESPN radio host in L.A. -- the father's advice doesn't get any more assertive now, particularly with his youngest.

"The mechanics and stuff, it's almost nice he doesn't know a lot of the fine details because he keeps it simple," Trayce said. "This game is so hard, you've got to keep it as simple as you can. But it's always refreshing to talk to him."

The family input is evident, White Sox manager Robin Ventura said, in how the young outfielder carries himself. "His work ethic ... how he represents himself and walks around, I think that's not always the case for everybody who comes up here," Ventura said. "He is not intimidated by this. At all."

Why sweat, when his father already is handling that. Mychal was a man in motion during The Finals, pacing the hallways at Oracle Arena as Golden State and Klay were closing in on the franchise's first NBA title in 40 years. "Any time you're dealing with LeBron James, you just cannot relax," he said. "That was the most miserable two weeks of my life. And yet, glorious."

Pulling for his three sons and their exploits now, he said, makes him more nervous than anything he ever felt as a player. The satisfaction? Way better.

"It's like the difference between the Arctic and the equator," Mychal said. "What I did was great, I appreciate it and I treasure it. But seeing your kids succeed, that's 'infinity better.' I get more joy out of their success than anything I've ever done in my life."

Even if it means squirming in hard plastic seats. "I'm hoping these seats become very familiar to us," Mychal said, "over the next 16 years."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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