MINNEAPOLIS — The last time Jim Thome came to Target Field, he was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. At the time of that mid-June series, it appeared as if that was Thome’s last visit to Minnesota.
But the former Twins slugger was traded to Baltimore on June 30, and he returned to Target Field once again Monday as Minnesota hosts a four-game series with the Orioles this week.
Thome finds himself in better circumstances this time around. For starters, his new Orioles squad is in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Phillies, meanwhile, entered Monday’s action in last place in the National League East.
While Thome is now on a team with a better record, he’s also back in a league that allows him to play every day. With the Phillies, Thome was relegated to pinch-hit situations — or designated hitter during interleague play. Since being traded to Baltimore at the end of June, Thome has already been in the Orioles lineup nine times.
“That’s been great, getting four at-bats and being able to make those adjustments compared to pinch-hitting once a night,” Thome said before Monday’s game at Target Field. “It can be very tough. So, you know, I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be in the lineup. Being able to play a little bit more is a lot of fun, no doubt.”
When Thome went back to Philadelphia this offseason after playing for the Twins and Indians in 2011, the Phillies used him at first base for a handful of games in April. But that didn’t exactly suit the 41-year-old Thome, now in his 22nd season in the majors.
“We know he’s not a glove guy anymore. We know he likes to swing,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “It’s definitely the right place for him. He can get his swings and gets his time off he needs and can DH and get four at-bats. … Not that he couldn’t catch the ball (at first base), but his back wasn’t going to be able to handle those things. This is the right league for him.”
Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy was Thome’s teammate in Minnesota in 2010. He said the Orioles players found out that they had traded for Thome by seeing it on the jumbotron during their game against Cleveland that day.
Thome said Hardy was the first one to text him after the trade as the two former teammates were reunited again.
“When it came up on the big screen I was pretty excited about it,” Hardy said. “We had no idea that they were even looking (at him). It kind of caught us all off guard, but it was kind of a nice little boost for the team.”
Thome enters this week’s series against his former Twins team with 609 career home runs, tied with former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa for the seventh-most in baseball history. Thome hit his 606th and 607th home runs at Target Field in June while with the Phillies. Home run No. 607 landed in a flower box above the wall in right-center field and had to be dug out after the game by a Target Field employee.
The Twins have hung onto the ball since then. Gardenhire displayed Thome’s 607th home run ball during his pregame meeting with the media in his office.
Turns out the Twins skipper is holding the ball hostage.
“He’s got to do something to get this ball, I know that,” Gardenhire said. “He hit it against us. He hurt our feelings. If he wants the ball back, Jimmy, make my day. … Thrill me. I’m not talking about on the field. I’m talking about seeing something that helps one of our favorite charities around here.”
Baltimore is Thome’s sixth team since the 2009 season. He began that year with the Chicago White Sox and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline. Thome then signed with Minnesota in 2010 and spent most of 2011 with the Twins before they dealt him to Cleveland for a September playoff push. This winter, he signed with the Phillies — a team he played for from 2003-05 — before once again getting dealt, this time to Baltimore.
Thome admits that bouncing around from team to team takes its toll, especially on his family. He’s hoping he’s found a home in Baltimore — and maybe he can even help be a part of an Orioles playoff run.
“I see a lot of young guys. I see a lot of talented guys, guys that are hungry, that are really ready to win,” Thome said of the Orioles. “The one thing I think when you do travel around, you get to learn and kind of understand each organization, how they go about winning. This one definitely is on the right track, no doubt.”