I suppose I 'discovered' Jim Thome in 1995, his fifth year in the big leagues and on the biggest stage of all. Even though he was a major threat and I got very nervous every time he stepped to the plate, there was still something extremely likable about him. I liked his attitude and the way he played the game. Sure, maybe I wouldn't like him quite as much if the World Series had ended differently, but since that October I've always been a huge fan.
So I was excited this morning when I saw that Jim had signed a 1 year deal with the Phillies. I'm happy he landed somewhere and very happy that I'll get to see him often in Atlanta. But what I don't quite understand is the move back to the National League. Jim's basically been a DH for the past six years. He started off at 3rd base, moved to first in the late 90's and has only dabbled in both since moving primarily into the DH role. Yes, I know he'll be coming off the bench as a pinch hitter late in games, sometimes staying in the game to play either first or third. But wouldn't he get more plate appearances if he stayed in the American League?
I think a large part of the decision is that Jim will be reunited with Charlie Manuel. Charlie was Jim's hitting coach in Cleveland. Earlier this season, after Jim hit home runs 599 and 600 I watched his post-game press conference. After talking about his parents (his father was at the game, his mother had passed away in 2005 after a long battle with lung cancer ) the next person he spoke about was Charlie Manuel. Jim was very excited, grinning ear-to-ear and it seemed almost still in disbelief of what he had just accomplished. He mentioned Charlie and then almost as if he was thinking aloud said, "I don't even know if he knows about this yet." Jim went on to talk about what a huge part Charlie played in getting him to 600 home runs. The things that Charlie taught him as a young player had served him well and extended his career. It was so wonderful to see someone so accomplished immediately shine the spotlight on those who had enabled him to get there.
That is one of the many reasons I love Jim Thome. He's a class act, he knows how fortunate he is and he shares it. He's putting his ten neices and nephews through college. And at 41 he still has gas in the tank and a pure passion for the game in his heart. One of my favorite Jim Thome quotes? "I think I'll love this game long after my body gives out."
I wish there were more players like him.