Although the team will begin the upcoming 2019 Atlantic League of Professional Baseball season on the road against the Sugar Land Skeeters, last year’s champions, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs will begin the schedule with a number of returning players, some of whom will play dual roles.
During his days as a dominant hurler at La Plata High School where he graduated in 2003, Daryl Thompson always envisioned playing baseball professionally but had no idea he could do so this close to home. Sixteen years ago, the Blue Crabs did not exist and Thompson often pondered, more so then than now, what his life would be like without baseball.
“Each time I go back to work with the kids at some of the high schools, like La Plata, it keeps me young,” said Thompson, who will be the Blue Crabs pitching coach in addition to being in the five-man starting rotation. “When I was in high school, the Blue Crabs didn’t exist. This [Regency Furniture] stadium wasn’t here. Honestly, I don’t know what I would be doing if this team wasn’t here.”
Thompson, who will turn 34 this spring, will still be part of the Blue Crabs starting rotation throughout the season although he will enter his rookie season as the team’s pitching coach. Hitting coach Craig Maddox has been a player/coach for several seasons and will assume both roles for the Blue Crabs this season.
“I knew that I always wanted to get into coaching, but I’ve always thought of myself as a player now and a coach later,” said Thompson, whose favorite players growing up were Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr. “When they asked me if I was interested in doing both, I didn’t really take it seriously at first. I still think that I have a few more years of pitching left. I can’t throw 95, 96 miles per hour like I could when I was younger, but I can still pitch.”
Having experienced players on the roster who can assume dual roles, such as Thompson and Maddox, gives managers Stan Cliburn several added bonuses. In his previous stint with the Blue Crabs in 2015, Cliburn guided the team to the Atlantic League Championship Series where they lost in four games, coincidentally, with Thompson in line to get the ball for Game 5.
“I’ve always enjoyed being involved with the team in Southern Maryland,” Cliburn said. “This is a blue collar team playing in a blue collar town. The guys on this team work hard every day in practice. They love playing in front of the fans here and they enjoy getting out and being part of the community. For me, there’s still nothing like walking out onto the field for opening day.”
Having Maddox in the lineup and Thompson on the mound every five games gives Cliburn an added appreciation for what those players bring to the team as coaches as well. Neither Cliburn or Thompson believes the veteran hurler is eager to part ways with pitching and he noted Maddox has already excelled in his dual roles.
“I have an immense amount of respect for what Daryl and Craig bring to this team,” Cliburn said. “I watched Daryl pitch a few innings this spring and he’s still got it. There’s still plenty of life left in that arm. He’s always had the respect of the other pitchers and now they can learn from him as a coach. Craig had hit best season when he first became a player coach in 2016, so I know he’s going to help this ball club in a lot of ways.”
Thompson is part of a number of pitchers on the Blue Crabs opening day roster with actual experience at the major league level. All totaled, the staff has more than 1,300 innings of major league experience and a collective 3.79 ERA. Admittedly with his best fastball behind him, Thompson has adapted to relying as much on movement and location as he once did on velocity.
“I can’t just go out there and throw my fastball by these hitters anymore,” said Thompson, who actually was a teammate of Griffey during his brief time in Cincinnati. “I have to rely on movement and setting up hitters and then hope they ground out or fly out or chase something. That’s what I want the other pitchers on the staff to see. They have to adjust. It’s one thing for me to tell them, it’s another for them to see how I do it out there.”
Among the most respected players on the Blue Crabs opening day roster is returning shortstop Edwin Garcia, the Atlantic League’s defensive player of the year. Garcia spent nine seasons with the Texas Rangers organization, including two brief stints at Triple-A in the Pacific Coast League. His quest has always been the same regardless of which jersey he is wearing.
“I’m really excited to come back to Southern Maryland,” Garcia said. “It’s like home to me. I’m looking forward to playing hard every day, helping the team win games, and, of course, win the [ALPB] championship.”
Southern Maryland begins its season with a seven-game road trip in Sugar Land that starts Thursday. The Blue Crabs will hold its home opener on May 3, the first of a three-game weekend series versus Lancaster.