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Thome Time in Philadelphia

DurableTear

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ESPN Story




Friday, February 14

Thome officially begins his new life as a Phillie

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com


CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jim Thome found out Friday what $85 million wouldn't buy:

Directions to his locker.

"Say," Thome asked, after trekking back to the clubhouse perimeter following his first day of spring training as a (gulp) Phillie. "How do I get in here, anyway?"

You know what, Toto? This seemed to be a clear sign it had dawned on Jim Thome that he wasn't in Winter Haven anymore.

"I've been anxious for this day to get here all winter," Thome said. "Just because of the unknown. I've been in an organization in Cleveland where I knew everyone. I knew what spring training was like. I knew how the first day would be. I knew, from a physical standpoint, what it would take to get ready. I knew all the different stretches we did. Here, I don't know any of that. So just that new environment, the buildup, it's very exciting.

"I feel," said Thome, "like the new kid on the block, going to kindergarten again."

Of course, those 5-year-olds don't show up for class a week before school opens. But Thome did. Friday was Day 1 for Phillies pitchers and catchers, but position players weren't required to report for another five days. Especially position players who just signed six-year, $85-million contracts.

But even though his manager took notice and his new teammates took notice and the local media horde took especially grateful notice, Thome couldn't figure out what the big deal was.

"I always get to camp early," he said. "I take a lot of pride in getting to camp early. Why not? That's what I do. I play baseball. Not that arriving early means anything. But we all need to get better."

Obviously, Thome doesn't have to think that way after signing by far the largest contract of any free agent on the market this winter -- a contract that won't expire until he's 38. And he doesn't have to think that way after a Barry-esque season in which he crunched 52 homers, hit .304, slugged .677 and had a .445 on-base percentage.

But he talked Friday about watching his father, Chuck Thome, head for work at Caterpillar every day for 20 years. He got the message.

"What my dad instilled in all of us," Thome said, "was never take anything for granted."

So by 8 a.m., he and his new best friend, Pat Burrell, were bolting through the clubhouse doors. And by 10:30, they were putting on their first official BP fireworks show, feeding off each other as they lofted a barrage of monster homers into the palm trees behind Steve Carlton Field.

"I think I'm going to have to split them up (in BP)," chuckled manager Admin Bowa. "Otherwise, we're gonna run out of balls."

But for these next six weeks, and the six months to follow, Thome's mission is to do more than just make baseballs disappear. This was the first day of a journey that was designed to rescue a dying franchise, remind Philadelphia what a pennant race looks like and change the personality of a faceless clubhouse.

And now that he can actually find that clubhouse, it's time for Jim Thome's real work as a Phillie to begin.


? I feel like the new kid on the block, going to kindergarten again. ?
? Jim Thome

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
 

Mephisto

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Nice ariticle. Thome is a real blue collar guy not many players go so early to camp.
 

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