Milt Thompson played 13 seasons in the majors with the Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, Astros, Dodgers and Rockies before going into coaching. Thompson was the Phillies' hitting coach for more than five years before being fired in 2010 and returning to the Astros as the team's minor league baserunning and outfield instructor. Thompson was in Oklahoma City for the series against Albuquerque, working with the RedHawks before joining the Astros' Class A team in Lexington, Ky.
What is the best thing about working with minor league players?
The key is, you work with the kid and you see these kids get to the big leagues. It's a big joy. Last year you had J.D. Martinez, (Jose) Altuve and (Jimmy) Paredes make it. It was very good. It's very rewarding to see the hard work those kids put in pay off.
Did you always know you wanted to be a coach after your playing career ended?
Oh yeah. I've always loved the game. When you can't play anymore, this is the next best thing — teaching. I enjoy teaching and I do the job anyway I can to explain to them that talent alone is not going to keep you in the big leagues. You've got to become a student of the game. That's one of the things that I really stress when I talk to the kids and when we're working and doing our drills.
Do you want to get back to coaching in the majors?
I'm enjoying what I'm doing right now. The game has changed a little bit. I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I can't explain it. I just enjoy what I'm doing. I enjoy teaching. These kids are willing to listen. They're trying to get to that next level and going all the way through the system, they're trying to get to the big leagues. It's enjoyable, they listen and learn a lot.
You're a motivational speaker in the offseason?
I really try to give back to the community and go to a bunch of schools in the offseason and talk to them about the importance of education and working hard. It's very important to me. I also do a lot of work in the Camden (N.J.) community with the Boys and Girls Club. I've been very blessed to be able to play in the big leagues for quite awhile and as a coach also so that's just my way of giving back to the community and letting the kids know that it's OK to dream and want things but you've got to have an education to make it in this life.
Did you always place that importance on education?
Around my fifth grade year, I did a little soul searching and said hey, what do you want to do when you grow up? This is my little thing to the kids I speak to, they have to think about three things they want to do once they get out of school and I give them a week to think about it. I don't want you to just go write it down quickly. Once they give me their three goals then they get an autograph, so it's a fair deal. I have about 7,000 of them right now.
When did you decide you wanted to be a baseball player?
Growing up, my grandfather, my dad and my uncle barnstormed in the Negro Leagues. So I was always around the game of baseball. As a matter of fact, my three things then: I wanted to be a football player; I wanted to be a policeman; I wanted to be a teacher. So baseball wasn't anywhere around when I was in the fifth grade. I grew up, things changed and I got better in baseball and I just made that decision. After I finished my junior year. I was an all-county player in football but I was one of the best players in the state in baseball so that made it pretty easy.
What are your favorite memories in the big leagues?
I would say, having a pretty good game in Game 4 of the World Series in 1993 (3 for 5 with 5 RBIs) for Philadelphia against Toronto and the other thing a lot of people remember is the catch I made in San Diego robbing the grand slam (from Bob Geren). As a kid, you imagine doing things like that: hitting a grand slam — robbing it — you imagine doing things like that in baseball. The situation has to be right. It was late in the game, it was the eighth inning and I was playing no doubles. If I was playing in my regular position, there's no way I would've got to the ball so everything just worked out right for that play to happen.
What kinds of things do you share with the players you work with outside of what you're teaching on the field?
I tell stories and let them know what the big league experience is and what you have to do to prepare yourself and develop a routine to be able to play 142-game schedule like they're playing right now.
What's the key to being able to survive that grind?
Short-term memory. When you have a bad game, you let it go and when you have a good game, don't get too excited about it. Keep everything even. The thing that drove me, and I always tell these kids that, you always have to tell yourself you're never a finished product. You're always trying to improve. Once you get to the big leagues, you've always got to improve to stay there.