MINNEAPOLIS -- If you walked into the Orioles clubhouse at Target Field at the right time this week, you might have seen the seventh-leading home-run hitter of all-time laying on the floor of the clubhouse, stretching his legs into the air with the help of the team’s strength coach.
Newly acquired designated hitter Jim Thome has accepted the twilight of his big league career with grace. He’s been an Oriole for just 11 games, and the club hopes Thome, who turns 42 in six weeks, can help the Orioles stay in the playoff hunt. He’s relegated to DH, but still seems as passionate about winning as a wide-eyed rookie.
On his second trip to Minnesota – where he christened Target Field with some memorable blasts in 2010 and 2011 – this season (he also visited with the Phillies last month), it was like a homecoming. Reporters and TV cameras followed him everywhere. And anyone who approached was greeted with a smile and a firm handshake from his humongous right paw.
While he’s still getting accustomed to a new clubhouse, this week had been special. The Orioles arrived Thursday night in Cleveland, where Thome began his 22-year major league career. It could be his final trip there. Who knows what the future holds?
Earlier this week, Thome talked about how he’s adjusting to a new team, coming to peace with the end of his career, being a leader, and helping the Orioles through a roller coaster season.
Here's the Q&A:
How has your adjustment to playing in a new clubhouse gone so far? What’s your take on this team so far?
I said this when I got here, and when I went to L.A. [in 2009] and when I went to Cleveland in . You fit into what they’ve done. When you get traded, you look at it as a compliment that they want you. They’ve played and had a great first half. I think the expectations are high here. I think Buck has done a tremendous job. I think the coaching staff has done a tremendous job. As I think we all know, baseball is a very long haul and there are ups and downs. The season is a roller coaster. I think the one thing that impresses me here is that there were winners here. You can see it. It’s happening. You look at some of the young players here, the stars, Wieters and Jonesy and Johnson. We’ve got guys who are superstar players. As a veteran, you want to fit in, but you also want to be there if they need any input, make them comfortable and just be a good teammate. I don’t think that’s hard to do. Just be yourself.
It’s no secret that this team has struggled over the past few weeks. As a veteran, where do you see your part in helping to stop a slide like this?
I think you show up, you do your work and you understand that roller coaster. You make sure that routine doesn’t change. It might be something you say during the day to a teammate. I think you continue to do that. You don’t get quiet. You don’t get down. Let’s face it. When you’re losing ballgames, you shouldn’t be laughing and joking and kidding around. But you have to be consistent about what you do and the work you do everyday and what gets you to that point of success and just be the same guy. And listening to a guy like Buck, because he’s very organized and he’s very well-prepared. I don’t think it’s a fluke that these guys have done what they’ve done to this point. I think he’s done a great job.
And this clubhouse was as quiet as its been after losing here on Monday and Tuesday. That’s been different.
That’s a part of it, but I’m talking about when you get here the next day after a loss. Getting here and making sure it’s serious, but you continue to be yourself. If I say something to Jonesy as a joke or having fun with him daily, you don’t want to change that. You want to make sure the rhythm and the excitement is there, [saying] 'I’m going to hit more home runs than you,’ or whatever it is. Having fun, that’s the consistent thing every day you want to keep. When you don’t win the clubhouse should be [quiet]. You move on but realize you need your time to reflect on the game.
This week you’re going to Minnesota and Cleveland, two places where you’ve spent some good years. Do you at all get nostalgic about going to these places?
I was telling my wife this. When I was in Philly, I looked on the schedule and we were coming to Minnesota, which is great. I know the way business is in baseball and sometimes you move one. The first thing I did when I came to Baltimore was I looked at the schedule to see if we were going to go to Chicago or Minnesota or Cleveland, and it just so happens that these two fall back to back, which is great. To have the opportunity to go back to Cleveland last year and relive a lot of memories, they were great as an organization when I got there, so hopefully it will be a great weekend, just to see people and say hi. Because you never know how long that’s going to happen. You appreciate the times you have as you get closer to the end. You do appreciate no doubt. When you have a chance like this, it makes a week on the road pretty fun.
So you got on the plane Sunday really thinking this could be your final time going to these places?
Yeah, because you never know, because of injuries. You never know when you’re going to have another opportunity to go back and play in a city that you appreciated and where you appreciated the fans. I’m very lucky. I think the fans in all the cities I’ve played in have treated me great. It’s been good.
With your next homer, you will pass Sammy Sosa for sole possession of seventh place on baseball’s all-time home run list. Do you think much about that next homer?
I do when people talk about it, but when I’m hitting, no. It would be great it that happens, but I think right now in my career, I’m trying to focus on being a guy who can help this club win. And the days that I play, whether it’s getting a big walk. Like [Tuesday], trying to get on base and let Jonesy try to tie it up. If we need a base hit or a walk, just understanding the type of game we’re in and do what’s best. All the individual things, I’ve said this before, will fall into place. But yeah, you think about it because it gets mentioned. It’s a historical thing. It’s a special thing, no doubt.