Growing up in Peoria, Jim Thome told his mother he never wanted to work a day in his life.
Growing up in Peoria, Jim Thome told his mother he never wanted to work a day in his life. Unless you call getting paid a healthy salary to play a game you love work, so far he has succeeded in his quest to avoid hard labor.
Thome, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1989, is in his 18th season in Major League Baseball. After three unremarkable years with Cleveland in 1991-93, he had a breakout season in 1994 and has been one of the most feared sluggers in baseball ever since, having joined the 500 home run club in a career that also has taken him to Philadelphia and Chicago.
The man with 523 career home runs (and counting) recently paid a visit to the White Sox Training Academy in Lisle to impart some of his baseball wisdom to youth campers.
Q How does it feel to be playing in Chicago, in your home state, at this stage of your career?
A It means a lot. Just being able to come back home and getting an opportunity to be close means a lot. My mother (Joyce) passed away almost four years ago, so it’s nice for my family in Peoria to be able to come up (to Chicago) and I think it’s helped with a lot of the grieving of her death. I feel really blessed that I had the opportunity to play here. It’s been great.
Q Is playing in Chicago everything you thought it would be?
A Yes. It’s a wonderful city, it’s a great organization and my teammates are great, so at this stage of my career it has been a very, very good thing. All in all, it’s been pretty cool.
Q Have you ever been in a clubhouse that’s so loose and carefree?
A Yeah, I’ve been in some good ones there with Cleveland in the ’90s, and it’s very similar now, to be honest. With good teams there’s a fine line between having fun and then being serious and getting after it, and I think that’s the good mix we have. It’s good. The key is to stay healthy and continue the good ride we’re on.
Q Could you ever have foreseen being such a successful major leaguer and feared power hitter?
A No, no. When your name is among guys like Willie McCovey, Ted Williams and guys like that (on the all-time home run list), you never as a kid, or even when you get to the big leagues, ever imagine anything like that. To do that is very humbling and kind of surreal. You look at your career and you’re blessed to be healthy and play a long time, but then to put up those kinds of numbers has been even more special.
Q What does it take to become that kind of hitter and stay that kind of hitter?
A Patience. You’ve got to have a lot of patience. You’re going to go through some good and bad times, and you have to understand that each season is a long haul and you can’t get frustrated. You have to continue to work, keep the same mental approach and understand there’s going to be good and bad times, but that if you keep that approach things will come out OK.
Q Do you do any drills to keep your batting eye sharp?
A I do some special things as far as that goes. I think you can always train your eyes. Your eyes are a big, big key to hitting. What’s the biggest thing they always say about hitting? See the ball. When you see the ball that’s when you’re going good; when you don’t you’re not hitting good.
Q During the season, do the hot streaks seem too short and the cold streaks endless?
A Sure. When things are going bad you try to eliminate the long bad streaks, but when you have the ability to draw walks it makes a big difference between going 1-for-5 and 1-for-3, you eliminate those long periods where you’re not hitting.
Jason Rossi can be reached at email@example.com.
High school Limestone High School, Peoria
Big date On Sept. 16, 2007, Thome became the 23rd member of the 500 home run club. His two-run shot was the game-winner against the Angels and came on Jim Thome Bobblehead Day.
Fact Thome grew up a fan of the Chicago Cubs and was in negotiations to play there when he became a free agent in 2002, but he eventually signed with Philadelphia.