The Truth About Thome

by longformphilly

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Jim Salisbury | Inquirer Sunday Magazine | March 2003

They told us Jim Thome was different. They told us he wasn’t your ordinary big-league baseball player, circa 2003. They told us he was this ego-free, no-pretense throwback, on the field and off.

The on-the-field part we believed. We’d seen the brush cut, the Bunyanesque physique, the high socks, the eye black, and the dirty batting helmet. We’d seen his fist-pumping emotion and heard the testaments to how, in this increasingly me-first era of pro sports, he was team-first all the time.

It was the off-the-field part we weren’t so sure about.

Thome, 32, had just signed an $85 million contract – the largest deal of baseball’s off-season – and been proclaimed the slugging savior of the Philadelphia Phillies, a potential giant of a franchise that had turned off its fans by sleeping too long.

Just how regular a dude could Jim Thome be with all this heady stuff – money and adulation – floating around?

The answer came sooner than I could have imagined – in the first telephone conversation I’d ever had with the guy one night in January, not long after his wife, Andrea, delivered the couple’s first child, a daughter named Lila.

“Let me ask you,” Thome said, as if he was talking to an old high-school buddy over a Bud Light. “Did your wife breast-feed? “

How’s that, Philadelphia? Regular enough for you?

“That’s Jim,” said Andrea, laughing when she heard the question her husband had posed. “He’s reading a book about fatherhood. He wants to know everything. “

Thome’s passion for fatherhood can even be seen in the way he responds when it’s time for a diaper change.

“Want me to do that? ” Joyce Thome, doting grandmother of 15, asked her son during a visit to his Cleveland home not long after Lila was born.

“No way,” he said. “I’ll do it. “

Jim and Lila traipsed off to the nursery, the tiny baby wrapped up in the behemoth’s loving arms.

“A few minutes later he called me upstairs,” Joyce said. “He just wanted to show off. “

Unless you count deer mounts on the walls at Lodge Two-Five, his beloved Illinois hunting haven, showing off a perfect diaper change is about as close as this grounded, almost too-good-to-be-true $85 million man will come to calling attention to himself.

Until the home runs start.

Writer bio: Jim Salisbury, a New England native (forgive him), covers the Phillies for CSNPhilly.com and appears regularly on Comcast SportsNet. He spent 13 years with The Inquirer before leaving for CSN in 2009. He lives in West Chester.

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