The four giant words painted on the wooden fence at Milne Playground weren’t there when Tyree Thompson first began playing baseball at the Gentilly park about 12 years ago.
But the words seem to have always been etched in Thompson’s mind.
Dream Big. Be Humble.
Those words are why the recent Edna Karr High graduate will be waiting to hear his name called in the Major League Baseball draft, which begins Thursday and ends Saturday.
“I’m excited about it,” Thompson said. “It’s a chance that some kids don’t ever get. I’m glad to get the opportunity. I’m going to take advantage of this chance.”
Thompson, a right-handed pitcher, would be the first Karr graduate to get chosen in the MLB draft, Cougars coach Donnie Russell said.
The school is known more for all the football players it has produced over the years. Thompson decided to make his mark in baseball, a sport that many African-American youth shun.
He’s glad he made that choice.
“It shows me that I’m blessed,” Thompson said. “A lot of black kids don’t get this opportunity. Not just black kids, but kids, period, don’t have this opportunity. I’m going to take advantage of it and make something out of it.”
Thompson was a two-sport star at Karr, doubling as a guard on the basketball team. He signed to play both sports at Northwestern State. He had opportunities to choose either sport at some colleges, but with the limited amount of money given for baseball scholarships, he decided to choose a school that will allow him to play both (the Demons are giving him a full scholarship for basketball).
But none of that will likely matter after this weekend.
Thompson plans to sign and pursue his baseball dream, one that started at Milne Playground and continued with him playing with the New Orleans Monarchs, a local travel team made up of all black players.
“The Monarchs took some of the best athletes and taught them how to really play baseball,” Russell said. “As they got older, a lot of the players ended up playing football and basketball. I think a lot of time, it’s more convenient for black players to play football and basketball because they they can get a full scholarship in those sports. They can’t get that in baseball.”
Thompson just completed a stellar career at Karr, striking out 17 batters in his final game, a first-round playoff loss to Livonia.
He put up mind-boggling numbers in four years for the Cougars. He struck out at least 100 batters all four years, finishing his career with 421 strikeouts and 38 victories. He was 7-3 as a senior with a 2.41 earned run average.
He also threw two perfect games and six no-hitters. He almost had a third perfect game this season against McDonogh 35, but he walked one batter. He made up for that one mistake with his bat, though, hitting a pair of home runs in that one (one went over the fence and the other was an inside-the-park homer.).
“I accomplished a lot of things and set a lot of goals for myself,” Thompson said. “I accomplished all of them except one, and that was winning a high school state championship. We came up short. But I know at the end of the day, all of us on the team became better players and better men, and I know everybody on our team is going to be successful in life.”
Russell, who first met Thompson when he was 9, has no doubts the righty will make it.
“I told Tyree’s mom (Latanya Bankston) when I first saw him that he was going to be special, “Russell said. “You could just see it in the way he walks around. He just has that swagger about him and is just a natural leader. He’s dominated on every level he’s been on, and he’s ready to take on this.”
Bankston says she is nervous about the draft, not knowing when her son’s name will be called. But Thompson is thrilled about the opportunity, calling it the perfect birthday gift. He turns 19 on Sunday and will begin his pro journey shortly afterward, regardless of when he is chosen.
And he knows it won’t be easy.
“I just have to keep working hard,” Thompson said. “I know I’m not going to be the best player on the team. So my work ethic is going to have to take over.”
Thompson flashed a big smile Wednesday afternoon as he walked around Milne Playground. This is where his baseball journey began, the place where he first started dreaming big.
“I accomplished a lot growing up,” he said. “But I’m not finished yet.”