A welcome return home

Thome looking forward to playing in Philadelphia

Posted: June 11, 2007

SHORTLY before 5 o'clock, on the afternoon of June 26, 2005 at Citizens Bank Park, Jim Thome walked with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the ninth inning against Red Sox reliever Keith Foulke.

Moments later, David Bell flied out to right. Boston won, 12-8, to complete the weekend sweep. As the disgruntled fans headed for the exits, few bothered to notice Thome walking off the field.

Nobody knew, of course, that it would be the last time he'd play a game in Philadelphia. After all, he was just 2 1/2 years into an $85 million deal that gave the Phillies control of his contract for 7 years.

That was before the elbow surgery and the rapid ascent of Ryan Howard and the trade that would send Thome to the White Sox at the end of the season.

Now, for the first time since, Thome will be back in town when the White Sox begin a three-game interleague series tonight.

"I'm excited," Thome said by phone as he drove to U.S. Cellular Field recently. "When the schedule first comes out, one of the first things you look at is to see where you play in interleague."

Healthy again last year, Thome rebounded to hit 42 homers for the Sox and was named to the American League All-Star team. This year, despite a short stay on the disabled list with a pulled ribcage muscle, he's hitting .281 with eight homers and 23 RBI. He needs just 20 more home runs to join the 500 Club for his career.

Life is good for the 36-year-old who, not long ago, was the centerpiece of the Phillies' hopes. His wife, Andrea, is expecting their second child in November. His daughter, Lila, is 4 1/2 and starting to grasp baseball. His father, Chuck, lives only a couple hours away and gets to a lot of his games in Chicago.

The only cloud on his homecoming horizon is the fact that there will be no designated hitter used during this series. In the White Sox's scheme, Paul Konerko usually plays first base with Thome the DH. But he's been told he'll start at least one game in Philadelphia.

"You always want to play when you come back to a city where you've been before, whether it's Cleveland or Philadelphia," he said. "I think every player feels that way. So in that sense it's a little bit of a disappointment.

"But I'm just looking forward to coming back and seeing a lot of people. [Manager Charlie Manuel], obviously. And a lot of the front office people who treated me very well when I was there. That's one thing I always admired about that organization is all the charitable work that they do. I always thought that was first class."

Thome chuckled when asked if manager Ozzie Guillen might give him a break and allow him to have an extra start in Philadelphia. "Maybe he will," he said with a laugh.

Returning players are never sure what sort of reception they'll receive and Thome, despite his enormous popularity while wearing a Phillies uniform, is no exception.

"I really try not to pay too much attention to that," he said. "Everybody would like to get a nice reception. Anybody would. Because of what happened in Cleveland [many Indians fans were unhappy when he left to take a better offer], I try not to look into it."

It was suggested that he might be cheered at first, but booed if he gets a big hit.

"That's Philadelphia," he said, laughing again. "They show you the love, but if you're an opponent, they root against you. That's what makes Philly such a great place to play."

And one reason he's looking forward to coming back. *

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