“The Pride of Peoria” hit No. 596 for the Minnesota Twins on Sunday in their 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. It was a three-run shot that traveled 489 feet in Minnesota’s Target Field, the longest homer hit there to date.
Possessing one of the sweetest swings the game has ever seen and having played through some tough injuries in a glorious 20-year career, it’s inspiring to see a guy who was part of the steroid era do it the right way. For that alone, Thome will take his rightful place in Cooperstown.
But there’s more to the man than just prodigious home runs. Thome is a locker-room leader who was chosen the nicest player in baseball in a recent Sports Illustrated poll of 290 fellow big-leaguers, garnering 27 percent of the vote.
With his wife Andrea, Thome has consistently answered the call to help raise money for a list of charities as long as his career: the United Way, Steve Palermo Chapter of the National Paralysis Foundation, Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Tug McGraw Foundation, Cleveland’s Fieldstone Farm/The Therapeutic Riding Center, Philadelphia Food Bank, Children’s Miracle Network, Lupus Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy, and even more. If there were a Hall of Fame for fund raising, it would include busts of the Thomes.
For good measure, Thome is putting all 10 of his nieces and nephews through college. One of the nephews, Brandon Thome, is a quadriplegic.
Brandon was a pitcher and first baseman on his junior varsity high school team when in June 2001, he bruised his spinal cord during a swimming accident.
Weeks later while rehabbing at Chicago’s Northwestern University Hospital, Brandon was visited by his famous uncle, then a member of the Cleveland Indians.
As Randy Miller wrote in 2003 for phillyBurbs.com, what happened next is right out of the seminal scene in the 1948 film “The Babe Ruth Story” in which a sick youngster asks the Bambino to hit him a homer, and Ruth obliges.
While on his way out of the hospital room the first day he visited Brandon, Thome was asked by his nephew for a home run. That night, in the fourth inning, he hit a three-run shot against the Chicago White Sox.
The next day, exactly one month after the accident, Brandon asked his uncle to hit two homers. “I don’t know. That’s kind of tough to do,” Thome replied.
That same day, Brandon was granted permission to leave the hospital for a few hours to attend his uncle’s game. Thome hit one out in the third inning and then, as if right out of a Hollywood script, hit another in the eighth inning in his final at-bat.
If Thome stays free of injury, he will undoubtedly hit No. 600 this season. When he does, the event will be worthy of celebration not just for the baseball player, but for the man. He is proof there are still heroes in sports.
UPDATE: Thome hit No. 600 on Aug. 15 against the Detroit Tigers.