The warmest of welcomes
Minnesota cheers Thome on return
MINNEAPOLIS - Jim Thome spent less than two seasons in Minnesota, a relative blip on the radar of a career that has spanned 20 seasons.
The impression that he made while he was with the Twins, and the memories created by a few of his mammoth home runs, will last a heck of a lot longer.
Thome, 41, returned to town with the Indians yesterday for the first time since the Twins traded him last month. The slugger played 179 games with the Twins and hit his 600th career homer as a member of the team this season.
“I think everyone knows how I felt about Minnesota and the wonderful two years that I spent here, from [manager Ron Gardenhire] to our coaches to the players,’’ Thome said before the series opened. “I mean my whole experience over there was great.
“I think that’s the unique thing of baseball when you get that opportunity to meet guys and play with them like I did for a couple years, it definitely is a memory you’ll never, never forget, for sure.’’
Good ol’ Jim, always as positive as can be. He chose to remember the party in the clubhouse when the Twins clinched the AL Central title last season and hitting his 600th career home run rather than the massively disappointing, injury plagued season that dashed his hopes for one more playoff run this year.
Thome joined the Twins before last season hoping to finally capture the World Series title that has eluded him for two decades. He surprised everyone by hitting 25 homers in 108 games to help the Twins reach the playoffs last season, but they were swept out of the first round by the Yankees.
Thome had a few suitors, including the Rangers, making offers in the offseason, but he decided to come back to Minnesota for one more run.
The highlights in year two were few and far between. Thome hit two homers in a game at Detroit in August to become the eighth player with 600 career home runs, but injuries to his back, quad, and heel limited his effectiveness.
As a team, the Twins quickly faded from contention after a rash of injuries to their core players, including Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Scott Baker.
With nothing left to play for, the Twins did Thome a favor and traded him back to the Indians in August, hoping the most popular player in the clubhouse could get back into the playoffs in the city where he became a star.
“If there’s anybody I’d want to see win that World Series, it’d be Thome,’’ Morneau said. “I’d prefer it to have happened with us. It’s hard for me to cheer for anyone in our division. But for him, he’s given so much to the game, he’s given so much to every community he’s played in. As far as anyone deserving, he’s right at the top of the list.’’
But the Indians have faded as well, sitting 13 1/2 games behind the division-leading Tigers when the day began.
“It doesn’t change your thinking, it doesn’t change how you approach the now, the present,’’ Thome said. “Because you still go play hard and you play the game I guess the right way and hard. But it is kind of disappointing whenever you don’t get a chance to go in the postseason for sure.’’
The fairy-tale homecoming everyone was hoping for in Cleveland hasn’t panned out, either. Thome has just one home run and three RBIs in 14 games for the Tribe, going into the weekend.
“He’s a hit a ton of home runs in our clubhouse and in our dugout,’’ Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He hit a huge one that helped us win a ballgame on the field, but other than that he’s been a great influence on our young kids, coaching staff, and just very supportive to all these guys and shared a lot of knowledge. He’s a special person.’’
Thome said he would take some time in the offseason before deciding if he wanted to try to come back next year and said that someone would have to be interested in him before he could even think about a 21st season.
Gardenhire, for one, said he thinks Thome still has something left in the tank.
“We miss him a lot,’’ Gardenhire said. “We had a lot of fun with him while he was here. It’s nice to see him. In all honesty, it’s fun to watch him walk up no matter what uniform he’s in, but I’d love to see him walking up in ours.’’