Thome continues to be a Twins fan favorite

Thome continues to be a Twins fan favorite

Published Jun. 13, 2012 5:00 a.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS — He's no longer a Minnesota Twin, but
slugger Jim Thome still draws a crowd in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Thome, now with the Philadelphia Phillies, is making his second Target Field
appearance since Minnesota traded him to Cleveland prior to last year's trade
deadline. He returned once again Tuesday to the ballpark he made look small
with his mammoth home runs while a member of the Twins in 2010 and 2011.

"It feels different, but great to be here," Thome said in the
visiting dugout Tuesday, surrounded by a horde of media members.
"Obviously, the two years I was here, not just myself, but my family
really enjoyed our time. Seeing all the guys out here early was a lot of fun
for sure."

There are many reasons Thome still commands the attention he does, even during
his second trip back to Minneapolis. For starters, his home runs in Minnesota
were things of legend. He hit one high off the Target Field flagpole in right
field. He hit another over the 36-foot-tall batters' eye in straightaway center
field. In fact, Thome has hit the three longest home runs in the three-year
history of Target Field — tape-measure shots of 490, 480 and 465 feet. Of
course, he also hit career homer No. 600 while with Minnesota, passing the late
Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew on the all-time list along the way to that milestone.

Ask Thome which Target Field home run stands out, though, and it's an easy
call: his walk-off blast against the White Sox, his former team, in 2010. Thome
tagged Chicago reliever Matt Thornton for a blast to right field and was mobbed
by his Twins teammates at home plate.

While that one stood out, each of his 37 home runs he hit with Minnesota was
memorable, he insists.

"A couple guys were asking me about the flagpole there, and it brings back
great memories," Thome said. "There were so many great memories. The
Thornton home run that won it that night, the home run over the backdrop, tying
Harmon, which for me is really as big as it gets because of the man Harmon

But as impressive as Thome was at the plate, his teammates praised him perhaps
more for what he brought to the clubhouse. A 22-year big league veteran, Thome
took time to give pointers to the Twins' younger players and was always willing
to lend an ear when a teammate had questions.

For that reason, and not so much for his towering home runs, Thome's
former teammates were eager to see him again Tuesday and chatted with him or
gave him a hug before batting practice.

"I enjoyed playing with him when he was here, just being part of that
historic day in Detroit and everything," said outfielder Ben Revere,
referring to Thome's 600th home run. "He's a great person. You couldn't
ask for anything else, a wonderful career like he's had. To be his teammate for
just a couple years, it was a blessing, definitely."

Thome made his first trip as a visitor last year after Minnesota traded him to
Cleveland, the franchise with which he spent most of his career. It was
certainly an odd sight for Twins fans to see Thome on the opposing team, but
that's ultimately part of the game.

"When you're on this side, you're competing. Those guys are my buddies,
but I want to beat them. That's the bottom line," Thome said. "Any
time you're on the other side, the friendships and all that go to the side.
You're trying to beat them and do well against it. But when it's over you
respect them and all that. . . .

"With Cleveland, I was in the same division. This time we're not, we're
just coming through with interleague. It's special for sure."

The 41-year-old Thome has battled health issues already this season, spending
about a month on the disabled list with a back injury. He just hit his first
home run of the season on Saturday, showing that even at his advanced age, he
can put a charge in a baseball.

"He's a great hitter. He's got a lot of home runs for a reason," Twins
manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If you make a mistake on him, he's going to
be ready to hit it. We have to keep the ball down. We know that, as with all
great hitters. You've got to keep it out of his wompin' zone. There's about 600-and-some
pitchers who haven't done that. Don't get on the list and you'll be fine."

When Thome was introduced for his first at-bat of Tuesday's game, many Twins
fans gave him a standing ovation. They're surely aware that this series will
likely be Thome's last at Target Field.

And while Thome hasn't decided yet whether he'll play next season, he has to
know this is probably his last trip to Minneapolis during his illustrious

"I have to be honest, I do like to compete. I really do," Thome said.
"I like to dig in that box. I like to work. I like to come to the
ballpark. . . . I know I'm getting toward the end, but I can still go out and
do it. That's what drives me to come back every year. It'll be interesting
going forward here."

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