|Jim Thome nears 500-homer plateau|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 13 September 2007 11:36|
He's shared the journey with his family and his teammates and hopes to do the same with fans everywhere because he and his father plan to personally deliver the ball to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
``He's been great with it. He has let everyone in,'' Chicago White Sox teammate Paul Konerko said.
``I imagine sometimes when guys get into that situation, they're probably not the friendliest guys to begin with and they go out and make it their own thing, but he's proving again he's a great teammate by letting everyone share with him.''
Thome could become the 23rd player to reach 500 and the third this season, joining former White Sox star and current Blue Jay DH Frank Thomas - whose old locker Thome now occupies - and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees.
Thome hit No. 499 on Wednesday with his dad, sister, wife and daughter cheering from the seats. And it came against the team he spent most of his career with, the Cleveland Indians.
Affable and approachable, Thome hails from Peoria, Ill., about 2 1/2 hours from Chicago, and has been able to play closer to home after he was traded to the White Sox from the Phillies before last season. He spent three years in Philadelphia, the last one sidetracked by injuries, after 12 seasons in Cleveland.
Thome said he has a special offer for the fan who catches or retrieves the ball that marks his 500th homer and will reveal it Friday when the White Sox play the Anaheim Angels and he faces Bartolo Colon, a former Indians' teammate.
``If we're lucky enough, my dad and I are going to take the ball and deliver it to the Hall of Fame,'' said Thome. ``I think for me, the history of the game, I would rather have the ball there. Just because it would mean something and going with my father would be very, very special. It would be a pretty cool thing to take it with him and to see it (hall) would be neat.''
Hitting No. 500 would also have been a better experience if it had come in a pennant race, not during a season in which the White Sox are fighting to avoid the worst record in baseball just two years after winning the World Series.
Thome went to the World Series twice in 1995 and 1997 but the Indians came up short both times. He left after the 2002 season and signed a six-year, $85 million deal with the Phillies. On his return to Jacobs Field this season with the White Sox, he was booed, despite all his great years there.
Of his 499 homers, Thome hit 334 while with the Indians, including a career-high 52 in his final season with Cleveland; 96 with the Phillies, including a NL-best 47 in 2003; and now 69 with the White Sox.
One of his biggest influences has been Charlie Manuel, now the manager of the Phillies, former manager of the Indians and Cleveland's longtime hitting coach who was instrumental in Thome's development.
Picked by the Indians in the 13th round of the 1989 draft, Thome broke in during the 1991 season and hit his first homer on Oct. 4 of that year against Steve Farr at Yankee Stadium.
Manuel's early teachings still stick with Thome.
``We've talked. About two weeks ago I gave him a call and we talked for about an hour about hitting, in general,'' Thome said of Manuel.
Another player nearing 500 is former Indians teammate and Red Sox star Manny Ramirez.
``It's an old cliche, but you always treat the baseball gods with respect. You never think you have the game figured out,'' Thome said. ``And Charlie was very good at that. For myself and Manny as well, when we were coming up, he did a very good job at keeping us level.''
Manuel said he emphasized that Thome should also try to hit for a high average. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Thome entered 2007 with a career .282 average and leads the White Sox this season at .273.
``I always thought he could hit 500. I thought he could even get to 600,'' Manuel said. ``I used to tell those guys in Cleveland all the time. He had power. ...That's why I used to talk to him about hitting .300, because if you hit for a high average, you'll get the home runs.''
Thome has 27 homers this season and eight over the last 24 games. He's been bothered by an assortment of injuries, including those to his back and rib cage, but nothing like his third and final season in Philly where he played only 59 games and ended up having elbow surgery.
At age 37, staying healthy takes a plenty of pre-game preparation especially since as a DH, he might only be on the field for 10 minutes per game.
``The one thing I always wanted, as I got going, was to stay healthy. I went through some periods where I wasn't and it humbles you,'' he said. ``The game is fragile and you never know how long it will last. Now as you get a little older you never know how long you're gong to play and you've got to enjoy every moment.''
And he has. He's savoring his time in the game and his run at this major milestone.
``Each and every at-bat is different. That's what makes it so tough. Hitting a home run is not an easy thing to do, especially when people want you to do it and you're trying to do it,'' Thome said. ``It puts in perspective for me all the great players that have done this. How hard it is to get to this level.''
AP Sports Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.