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Jim Thome, you are my hero

There are very, very few players who have had a bigger impact on my baseball fandom and life.

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew Memorial Service
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

When I was a younger girl who started watching baseball again, because I had finally given up on the Vikings, I remember seeing Jim Thome, the Cleveland Indian. My first thought was, “Oh wow, look at his red shoes!” After that I had many other thoughts, along the lines of, “That was a home run”, “Not cool”, “Please stop”, “Also not cool”, “Are you kidding me?”, and “Please stop hitting home runs against the Twins, Jim Thome!”

Those shoes, though, for some reason, stuck in my head. Maybe it was all the home runs that came with them. I don’t know.

Several years later, when I was firmly again a baseball fan, I remember walking into the Metrodome with my Mom. I was wearing bright red shoes I had just bought at Target. My Mom had season tickets at the time and we always came in sort of the same way, so we usually saw the same people. A loud-mouth scalper who knew us noticed my new red shoes.

“HEY DOROTHY!” he yelled.

It took me a second to realize he was yelling at me. I looked down at me feet, then back up at him, and told him — something I vividly remember — “No, these are my Thome shoes.”

In the Metrodome, my Mom’s season tickets were by first base. Back then, the seats weren’t very expensive because the stadium sucked and so did the team (for awhile). Our two seats were next to the only random, un-owned seat in the section. Often a lone fan from the other team would buy that seat and sit there. In 2004 and 2005, a particular loud White Sox fan bought that seat for himself so often that we came to recognize him. One day, Mark the Beer Guy came down our aisle, and my Mom stood up offered to buy the White Sox fan a beer.

Thomas (the White Sox fan’s name, as we later learned) looked at us weird, told us he did not drink, and asked why we were trying to be his friend.

After that, Thomas continued to buy the seat next to us and we continued to talk to him. He started picking us up and giving us rides to games. He loved Jim Thome. “I saw Jim Thome’s 500th home run!” he frequently boasted.

Jim Thome is the baseball player who is impossible to hate. When he was a young Indian, facing the Twins, red shoes, I was in awe. When he was a Philly, sometimes red shoes, I could love him even more from afar (not hitting home runs against the Twins). Then he was a White Sox, during the height of the Twins vs. White Sox rivalry, I… still loved Jim Thome?

The Twins and the White Sox played a Game 163 in 2008. The White Sox won the game 1-0, on a Jim Thome solo home run.

And I still loved Jim Thome.

After 2009, I was a little sad the White Sox weren’t going to re-sign Jim Thome. I was afraid Jim Thome was done.

I remember exactly where I was. I was in the passenger seat of my Toyota 4Runner my boyfriend was driving down Franklin Ave. We were just passing Cedar Ave, when I heard on the radio that the Twins had signed Jim Thome. I could take you to that intersection and put you within ten feet of where I was in a moving car when I heard that news. That is how burnt in my brain hearing that was.

“Jim Thome can’t hit home runs against us if he plays for us!”

The Twins hadn’t planned for Thome to be an everyday player when they signed him in 2010, but injuries thrust him into the role. He thrived, of course. On July 3rd, Thome had a two home run game — hitting the 573rd and 574th dingers of his career. Any Twins fan should know what that meant.

The Twins had prepared for the moment with a special video message on the scoreboard.

Thome was seen visibly teary-eyed in the dugout. He later talked to the legendary Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune:

Thome had met Killebrew in spring training for the first time. And Thome’s father is one of the big Killebrew admirers.

”That’s something that will go down in my book as one of the better moments in my career, for sure,” said Thome. “You might tie a guy, but you really might not have ever met that person. To meet Harmon and get an opportunity to be with him in spring training and — I mean he’s a legend, he’s a legendary person, too — that’s what makes it even better.”

On meeting Harmon at spring training, Thome said: “You know, my dad always used to talk about Killebrew. It’s kind of a neat story because my dad has told me two different times that people think my dad is Harmon Killebrew. They’ve actually approached him in Dodger Stadium last year asking for his autograph. My dad has had, I think, two or three requests asking him if he would sign a baseball and he goes, ‘No,’ and then they think that he’s Harmon Killebrew. So it’s kind of a pretty cool thing. I look forward to giving [my dad] a call, and he’ll be excited. He’ll be excited. At some point I’d like to touch base with Harmon, too, and thank him for everything.”

Later in 2010, the Twins were racing the White Sox to a Central Division championship. It was August, and the two teams were battling it out in the extra innings at Target Field. I was there, recording Thome’s at-bat with my camera, when he hit the first walk-off home run in Target Field history.

I absolutely screamed like a banshee.

(I KNOW. I’m sorry! I know I sound like an asshole, but I I was REALLY excited and my mouth was right next to the microphone on the camera because that’s how things worked back then. It was justified anyway, though.)

In part of that video, above, I look over for a split second at our White Sox friend, Thomas, still sitting next to us in the new stadium. It wasn’t the outcome he wanted, obviously, but it was hard for him to be mad.

“It’s Jim Thome.”

Thomas gave us a ride home.

A couple months later, I was in the waiting room at my doctor’s office. I saw a Sports Illustrated magazine with Jim Thome at Target Field on the cover. Naturally, I picked it up and started to read.

So Thome points his bat, and he clears his mind. “Home run, Jim!” someone shouts from the crowd. Thornton fires a 95-mph fastball down and away, and Thome swings ferociously.

That was my boyfriend (at the time) shouting.

On a YouTube video of the moment, you can hear a man in the crowd say, “Double play or home run.”

That was… actually not a man. That was my Mom. That’s obviously my Mom because that is always the kind of crap she says, and I have it on video.

I was reading a description of Thome’s home run from the very vantage point I saw it from. In the Sports Illustrated in my doctor’s waiting room. Joe Posnanski had watched my video and used it to help write his story on Jim Thome.

Thornton hangs his head, and Thome pounds his way around the bases after the first walk-off home run hit in Minnesota’s brand-new Target Field. It’s a big moment: The new stadium shakes with joy, and even at that moment people sense that the divisional race is over. This is the home run that people in the Twin Cities will always remember from the summer of 2010.

Is this even real? This cannot be real. But I read on:

Guillen himself says, “Go ahead, blame me... . But I’ll tell you I love Jim Thome. I wish I didn’t. I wish I f------ hated the guy. But I can’t hate him. Nobody can hate him.”

Then the nurse called my name, and I put the magazine down and walked away.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was tell my Mom that Harmon Killebrew was moved to hospice care. He was going to lose his battle against cancer. My Mom hadn’t heard this news the day she called up to ask me when we should go to the Twins game. I remember explaining it, and my Mom getting very quiet, and then hanging up, though we did go to the baseball game later.

Harmon Killebrew was my Mom’s hero. Killebrew was the reason she likes baseball, which is the reason I like baseball.

I went with my Mom to the public memorial service the Twins had for Harmon Killebrew at Target Field the next week. Rod Carew talked about Harmon and last time he saw him. Rod broke down crying at the podium. Hank Aaron was there.

Dick Bremer took the podium after Rodney, when almost everyone there was crying, and tried to cheer up the mood. “Harmon Killebrew once hit a home run that went 520 feet,” Bremer said. “If you want to know how long that was, look at that man sitting in that seat up there.” He pointed to the furthest, farthest seat in the corner of the outfield at Target Field, and sure enough, there was a guy sitting there. “That’s how far Harmon Killebrew hit a ball”

The camera zoomed in on the guy, and of course, it was Jim Thome, holding a Harmon Killebrew jersey, and smiling like a Hall of Famer.

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew Memorial Service Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

In 2011, Jim Thome was still with the Twins and coming up on his 600th home run. My Mom and I specifically bought seats in the outfield for all the games in the home series when he was at 598 home runs, just in case he hit his 599th and 600th right at us. I remember sitting in one of those odd, one-row sections in right field, where we absolutely never sat, when Mark the Beer Guy came down and saw us there. He was very confused. Mark, however, was also selling hot dogs instead of beer, which made us very confused. I think we stared at each other with the weirdest looks on our faces for about five seconds.

Naturally, my Mom said the only thing you can say in that situation, which was, “Can… I have a free hot dog?” He gave her a free hot dog, because we were all so confused about the situation.

“I didn’t even want this hot dog, I just wanted to see if he would give me one,” my Mom told me. Jim Thome didn’t hit a home run to us that day, but I got to eat a free hot dog.

Thome did not hit his 600th home run at Target Field. The Twins left town, eventually ending up in Detroit on August 16th, 2011. It was there, that night, Thome hit both his 599th and 600th career home runs, something we’d always anticipated would happen in the same game.

That night I was in my apartment in St. Paul, not even watching the TV. It was on, but I was not watching. I was in my small kitchen, cradling my 19-year-old cat. My best friend of all time. He lived with me longer than even my parents, longer than anyone else in my entire life. He was dying. I already had the appointment scheduled for the next morning. I remember holding him and hearing in the distance Thome hitting his 600th home run, and hearing the celebration. I was happy just to still be holding my best friend.

“Jim Thome! Number 600!”

My Step Mom called me one day in 2013, which is odd because she does not usually call me. “Guess what!” she said.


She was flying first class to Arizona, and a large man sat next to her. She’s not the biggest sports fan, but she is a professional nosy person, and she could tell this person had to be some kind of professional athlete. She peeked over at his boarding pass and saw it was Jim Thome, and then she knew who he was, because who doesn’t know who “Jim Thome” is?

She ended up talking to him a bit during the flight about his job and family and things like that, and said he was the nicest person ever. She told him that her daughter was a huge baseball fan, and asked if he would sign his boarding pass for her. He said, no, I won’t sign my bordering pass, but I’ll sign your bordering pass!

Maija Varda

“He just had the biggest arms you’ve ever seen!” my Step Mom said.

My Step Mom, god bless her soul, kept asking him when he was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and he apparently just kept laughing. When the plane finally landed and they were getting off, she said goodbye to him, and added, “I can’t wait to see when you get in the Hall of Fame.”

I absolutely love you, Jim Thome. You are everything I could ever dream for in a baseball hero. I know you murdered my team for most of your career, and I am kind of not happy about that, but the player you are, and the person you are... it does not even matter. You made me love baseball.

I will always think of you when I see red shoes.

Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Jim Thome.

Jim Thome...
Jim Thome