FARGO-The baseball option of choice for Carter Thompson last summer was the Rocky Mountain Baseball League in Colorado. It was ideal for his off-the-field hobbies of hiking and climbing, too, since the state has some of the best peaks and trails the country has to offer.
Now back at North Dakota State for his sophomore season, he's still climbing, only it's not some face of a mountain. It's the lineup card with the Bison.
Since being inserted as the starting right fielder, the Fargo North graduate has been on a tear and leads the team with a .342 batting average. That includes a walk-off double that won a game last weekend in a three-game sweep of Purdue-Fort Wayne (Ind.).
Thompson has hit safely in 10 straight games, which has been a reward of sorts for the patience he showed while riding the bench.
"You're itching to play, every guy on this team loves to play ball and it's kind of hard not to be playing," Thompson said. "But I think it was good for me to learn how to be a better teammate, supporting the other guys who are in my role and helping the team move forward rather than just myself."
He did that so admirably that head coach Tod Brown said: "Carter handled it as well as I've seen in my 20-plus years of coaching, where he stayed positive.
"He wasn't pouting, he wasn't complaining, he wasn't being a bad teammate, he was doing the opposite. When his shot came, he was ready. A lot of times you see the same situation where guys pout a little bit, they're in my office complaining and when they get their shot they're not ready and they don't perform like they say they're going to because they're not mentally or physically prepared."
NDSU turned to Thompson with its offense struggling. It took a lot of work for him to get there, and that includes intensive weight training that has him playing at around 195 pounds-about 40 more than when he enrolled at NDSU.
He redshirted his freshman season in 2016 and hit .108 in 37 at-bats last year. Like a lot of players, the collegiate summer league experience last summer helped move his game forward.
He hit around .500 on a team that included players from the likes of Kansas State, Pacific University (Wash.) and a few junior college guys. In his off time, he climbed and hiked in Clear Creek Canyon Park or Boulder Canyon. He climbed Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado at 14,439 feet, a few days after the season ended.
He plans on playing this summer in Spearfish, S.D., in the new Exhibition League, which consists of eight teams in South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. The Badlands Big Sticks in Dickinson is the North Dakota team.
"It's a brand new league and you never know what to expect, but they're bringing in a lot of talent and up-and-coming guys," Thompson said.
The priority, of course, is this weekend when the Bison host South Dakota State in a three-game series at Newman Outdoor Field starting Thursday. The Bison need a combination of either one win or one Nebraska-Omaha loss to reach the Summit League tournament.
If Thompson comes close to matching last weekend's success, the Bison should be in good shape. Brown said it's satisfying seeing a local player like Thompson succeed, much like former Bison pitchers Kyle Kingsley and David Ernst from Fargo South did earlier in Brown's NDSU coaching tenure.
"He's got family in the stands, he's a Fargo kid, he played a mile away from here," Brown said. "It's cool seeing somebody do that in their hometown. That's what the ultimate is for Bison baseball is having your contributors and especially your local talent helping you win."
What: South Dakota State at North Dakota State
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Newman Outdoor Field
Radio: 1660-AM, 92.7-FM