When Jim Thome wasn’t working on fielding drills in the early morning Florida sun, he was standing around his locker chatting with his manager Charlie Manuel.
It was like watching a proud father holding court with his accomplished son. Manuel is clearly thrilled to have Thome around, to start some games at first base and to provide a late-inning power threat off the bench. But Manuel also loves having him around the clubhouse.
Unlike some of Manuel’s other players, the 41-year-old Thome let the hitting guru mold him into one of the game’s greatest home-run hitters. Thome listened as a raw Midwestern kid and his ear is always open for Manuel.
“Charlie knows a thing or two about hitting,” Manuel said. “He knows a lot about baseball period. It would be foolish not to listen to every word he says.”
There is a deep bond between Manuel and Thome that was forged during their days together in Cleveland, when Manuel was the club’s hitting guru and Thome was a very promising bat.
Manuel went on to manage the Indians and Thome became one of his most successful pupils. Thome signed a massive free agent contract with the Phillies in 2003 and Manuel followed his charge to Philly two seasons later and became the most successful manager in franchise history.
When Thome signed a free agent deal this past offseason with the Phillies, Manuel hoped that his close friend could play first base.
“Jim knows how to hit,” he said. “He’s always been a very good hitter. He can still hit. He’s going to help us.”
While waiting his turn, you can bet that Thome will be talking baseball with Manuel.
“I love going over things with him,” Thome said. “One of the great things about coming back to the Phillies was being around him. [Manuel]. He’s a great person, who knows the game as good as anybody. We enjoy each other’s company.”
In a pinch
Thome’s primary role will be as a pinch-hitter who can change the game with one swing. The Phillies haven’t had such a bench player since Matt Stairs went for the fences each time he came up to the plate.
“I’m going to do all that I can for this team,” Thome said. “I’ll try to play some games at first base. I hope that works out. I would love to get a couple of bats a game and make an impact.”