On Monday night, Twins slugger Jim Thome became the eighth player in history to reach 600 home runs — and the first to hit Nos. 599 and 600 in consecutive at-bats.
The moment was nearly as magical as Derek Jeter’s home run for his 3,000th hit and subsequent 5-for-5 performance, but I doubt it will be portrayed that way.
Thome has never played in New York. He has never won a World Series. But ask anyone in baseball — he is as distinguished a representative of the game as Jeter, and probably even more popular within the sport.
The difference is that Thome spent his first 12 seasons in Cleveland. He played three years in Philadelphia before the Phillies became the monster they are today. His next four seasons were in Chicago with the White Sox, but his only time in a major coastal media center was the month-plus he spent with the Dodgers in 2009.
Trust me, Thome’s 600th home run should be a big deal — and I don’t want to hear about “milestone fatigue,” a reluctance by the media to extol another slugging feat when so many accomplishments of this generation were tainted by performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s true that three of the previous seven members of the 600-homer club — Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa — have been linked to PEDs.
But Thome, like Ken Griffey Jr., another recent 600-homer man, has not.
Baseball fans should rejoice over this moment — and what a moment it was, with Thome producing not one, but two opposite-field shots in pitcher-friendly Comerica Park.
If you don’t want to celebrate the milestone — and really, I see no logical reason to hold back — then celebrate the man.
I’m not talking about whether Thome is “clean.” I’m talking about all the people in the sport who love him — the batboys and the club presidents, the ushers and the writers, his past and present managers and teammates.
Consider this congratulatory tweet from White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen: “500 homerun 600 homerun wuaooooooo mr thome.”
Consider this slightly more coherent one from Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins: “Congrats to my big homie, Jim Thome, on his 600th home run!!! Could not have happened to a nicer man.”
And finally, consider this one from Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander: “Congrats to Jim Thome on #600. Give credit where credit is due. One of the game’s best hitters — and an even better person.”
Thome gave a little fist pump as he rounded first, flashed a little smile. For him, it was practically an outburst of emotion. No. 600, a three-run shot with two outs in the seventh inning, gave the Twins a 9-5 lead. But Tigers fans stood and cheered, even though Thome’s blow helped cost their first-place club a needed victory in a pennant race.
The fans get it: Thome is Midwest humble, a product of Peoria, Ill. He could have signed with the defending AL champion Rangers for more money than the Twins offered last offseason. But he returned to the Twins because Minneapolis-St. Paul was an easier commute for his family than Dallas-Fort Worth.
Thome’s wife, Andrea, and children, Lila, 8, and Landon, 3, live in Chicago. He lost his mother, Joyce, to lung cancer in 2005. His father, Chuck, still lives in Peoria.
Andrea, the kids and Chuck all were in attendance at Comerica on Monday night, and walked onto the field to congratulate their man.
OK, maybe the moment wasn’t as dramatic as Jeter’s home run for 3,000, and it didn’t occur at Yankee Stadium on a sparkling Saturday afternoon.
This was a big deal.
As big and as well-deserved and as satisfying as it gets.