Dalton Pompey is ready to leave baseball on his terms

The bright lights of Major League Baseball are fading away, but Dalton Pompey is enjoying baseball again.

The former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder has spent the summer patrolling the outfield for the Guelph Royals of the Intercounty Baseball League. After being released by the Los Angeles Angels last summer, he has been determined to make this season a memorable one.

“I didn’t want to go out like that, and I decided for myself that when Guelph reached out to me that it was something I needed to do for myself,” Pompey said. “(You want to) go out, play the way you want to play and enjoy your last year of playing. I just wanted to end my career on a high note.”

Pompey had options to continue his baseball career — he had offers from teams in Korea and Taiwan — but the decision to play for the Royals was an easy one. He was looking to play the game close to home one last time.

“He and I had some great conversations prior to (him) signing,” Royals manager Dino Roumel said. “(I said to him) ‘If you don’t sign with another club, here’s an opportunity to come home. Keep us in mind.’ When he didn’t get an opportunity to get re-signed again at a high level, he said to me, ‘I want to come home and I want to play.'”

It wasn’t too long ago that Pompey was one of the top prospects in the Jays’ minor-league system. Drafted in the 16th round in 2010 out of John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga, his talent had him on a fast track to the big leagues.

As the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons’ season ended in 2014, Pompey was getting ready to pack up his locker and head home. Two days later, as MLB rosters expanded in September, he arrived at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., to see his name on a Jays jersey hanging in a locker next to José Bautista.

“It’s a mix of shock with nervousness and excitement — pretty much any emotion I could feel — and it was a great moment,” Pompey said, the energy of the memory still palpable in his voice. “It was a crazy, full-circle moment.”

He grew up in Mississauga and Brampton and watched the Jays on TV, and becoming the sixth player from Ontario to suit up for the team felt surreal. He says that first moment in the locker room validated all the time he spent working in school gyms and baseball fields.

Pompey appeared in 34 games for the Jays the following season and earned a spot on the post-season roster as the team ended a 22-year playoff drought. He stole four bases as a pinch-runner over two playoff series, and had a front-row seat for Bautista’s famous bat flip in Game 5 of the American League division series against Texas. He remembers exactly where he was when it happened.

“I was standing next to Josh Thole and he was like, ‘Man, if Jose hits a home run here, this place is going to come down,'” Pompey said. “What does he do? He hits a home run. I remember the ground shaking and people going crazy.”

Pompey had 32 hits in 145 at-bats with the Jays, including a monster first home run to the second deck in right field at the Rogers Center. It came off former Cy Young winner Félix Hernandez.

But injuries often left Pompey sidelined. He played just 64 games with the Jays until he and the organization parted ways in 2019. He spent the past few seasons in the minors with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Angels before suiting up for Guelph this summer.

“Injuries are part of the game and there’s not much you can do about that,” Pompey said. “I’m going to play a certain way, I’m going to play hard. Do I regret anything? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t change the way I played for any reason. It was unfortunate for me because I spent a lot of time injured and I feel like I couldn’t play to the level I could have.”

With his time in the majors behind him, the 29-year-old has been focused on the present and he has been all-in for the Royals. His team entered the final weekend of the IBL regular season 28-11, a game-and-a-half out of first place. Pompey was hitting .373, third in the league. He has taken on a leadership role, trying to pass on some of what he has learned to his younger teammates.

“He’s a guy that you would never assume had played in the major leagues, as far as an attitude is concerned,” Roumel said. “He’s a guy who gives himself 100 percent. He signs autographs for all the kids, he takes time to talk to people, he’s a great teammate. He often talks to a lot of the younger guys who aspire to be professional players. He’s happy for the first time in a long time playing baseball.”

Dalton Pompey is spending his last baseball days playing for the Guelph Royals of the Intercounty Baseball League.

But as happy as he is, Pompey is in his final innings. After the last out of this season he’s hanging up the cleats for good and is set to begin the next chapter of his life away from baseball. He is looking to start a career in emergency services, drawn to the idea of ​​serving his community.

And he’s happy he’s leaving the baseball community on his terms.

“It doesn’t last forever but I was (in the majors) for a couple of years,” Pompey said. “Do I wish longer? Absolutely. Am I thankful and grateful for the opportunity I had? Absolutely, too. You never know how long it’s going to last, and this was a dream come true for me (and) I never took anything for granted.”

Ray Bala is a freelance writer based in Toronto

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