Jim Thome: The Big Man Done Good

16 Aug

Jim Thome is a throwback.  The Minnesota Twins slugger is what you might call an old-time baseball player.  He doesn’t tweet, he doesn’t play to the cameras, he doesn’t try to bring attention to himself.

He just hits home runs.  600 of them in case you’re counting.

Last night Jim Thome became only the eighth player in Major League baseball history to join this exclusive club.  And in an age where many of our greatest sluggers’ home run records will always be tarnished by steroids, Jim Thome’s record stands as a welcome exception in this drug damaged decade.

Unfortunately, three of the other more recent members of the 600-club can’t make that same claim.  Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds all reached the 600 mark but all of them have been linked to steroid use.  The 40-year old Thome, who will turn 41 later this month, has never been linked to performance enhancing drugs which is in itself reason to celebrate him.

So why isn’t his accomplishment being met with the same degree of hoopla as when New York Yankees Derek Jeter was chasing his 3000 hit?  Hundreds of cameras followed Jeter’s every move and you could barely turn on ESPN or check out your favorite sports website without finding what seemed like an almost minute-by-minute account of Jeter’s progress.

Not so with Jim Thome.  Maybe it’s because he doesn’t play in New York or Boston or maybe it’s because he has played for so many different teams over his career.  While Jeter has always been a Yankee, Thome has played for five teams–Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, LA and currently Minnesota.

But in each of these different uniforms he has always been the same Jim Thome, a quiet, classy slugger, a gentle giant of a man who never became known for his off-the-field exploits.  Instead he always let his bat speak for him on the field.  And we, as fans, have many reasons to be grateful for that.

As of this morning, 600 reasons to be exact.

As a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, I have my own memories of Jim Thome.  I remember an emotional press conference on his arrival where he sincerely thanked all of his friends, fans and the ownership in Cleveland (are you paying attention, LeBron James?)  He went on to thank his wife for standing by him tearfully calling her “his rock.”  In fact, he was so overcome by emotion on this day that he had to leave the podium to collect himself.

I remember that when Thome visited Philadelphia before the trade was official, Citizens Bank Park was under construction.  When his car passed the stadium Thome insisted on pulling over so he could talk with the Union Workers on site that day.  He later said that it was meeting them that convinced him Philadelphia would be the right fit for him.

I remember Thome’s first at-bat in a Phillies uniform.  He slammed a double to right field that started a love affair between the fans and Thome that lasted throughout his three years in Phillies red.  His blue-collar work ethic and obvious love for the game he played made him a perfect fit for the often demanding Philadelphia fans.

I remember when Thome hit his 400th home run on June 14, 2004 in front of an adoring Philadelphia crowd and the feeling shared by many then that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

And I even remember the loud and long ovation Jim Thome received when he returned to Citizen’s Bank Park for the first time in a White Sox uniform.  His emotions were evident as he had to wait and wait and wait for the loud and long ovation to finish before stepping to the plate.  The fans even gave him an ovation several years later when he hit a 2-run home run against them in a Twins uniform.  I can think of no other opposing payer who would receive that rare response.

So today, let’s hear it for Jim Thome.  Yes, he has reached a big milestone on this August morning but what is even more worth applauding is the man himself, a humble, hard-working, old-style baseball player.

A man who loves his family and the game he plays.

A man who has given back to every community who has been lucky enough to have him in their midst.

In short, perhaps most worth celebrating is that Jim Thome is a man who will always be bigger than any of the milestone he might achieve.

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7 Responses to “Jim Thome: The Big Man Done Good”

  1. Fern Zeigler August 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    you made me have goose bumps and I DONT WATCH BASEBALL!!

    • girlsbestphriend August 17, 2011 at 12:31 am #

      Well, that’s appropriate because Jim Thome gave goose bumps to many of us. Thanks!

  2. geetie cohen August 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    Thome will always have a place in my heart,as a true gentleman of the sport, as you so beautifully characterized him,and in our family as a loved grand dog. !!!

  3. Chris Ross August 16, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    Great post. It was really nice to see Jim Thome finally get to 600 because he deserves it. Everything I hear about Jim Thome coming from his teammates and the media is positive. Everyone loves the guy and it is truly special for him to reach the incredibly rare 600 home run club. It will be a few years at least before we see it again but like the 300 win number, who knows how long it will be before we see another guy do it. Also, you think you could have a look at my blog because I would really like to hear what you have to say http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/a-dying-breed/

    • girlsbestphriend August 17, 2011 at 12:34 am #

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for commenting. Thome really is a special man. We were lucky to watch him in person during his three years in Philadelphia. I’ll definitely check out your blog. Hope you’ll come back..

  4. joe fabitz August 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    As a lifelong Cleveland Indians’ fan, don’t be so sure of yourself that Thome did not partake in those same 600 club activities!

    • girlsbestphriend August 27, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

      Say it aint so, Joe! That he was “clean” always seemed to be the prevailing wisdom and what I wanted to believe.
      By the way, congrats on having Thome back “home.” We would have loved to have him back in Philadelphia but Cleveland is where he started, right?

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