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Hall of Famer Jim Thome reflects on time in Burlington

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By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

 

Jim Thome returned to Burlington more than three decades after an early assignment in professional baseball brought him to Alamance County on his way to the Hall of Fame.

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“It’s pretty cool to now be here and reflect back on your career and that’s very, very kind of special,” Thome said.

Thome, 53, was on hand for Saturday night’s Appalachian League game at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

Thome, a first baseman, began his pro career in the Gulf Coast League before time in 1990 with the Burlington Indians, who were in the Cleveland Indians organization. He rose through the system, and ended up with 22 seasons in the major leagues.

Some of the foundations were set in small cities along the way.

“I think the excitement and the joy and just wanting to get better,” he said of his early years. “Try to keep improving. Fortunate to be around great teammates that you could spend that summer with. The brotherhood of baseball, the fraternity that we form is very special.”

Now, Burlington is home to a collegiate summer team in the revamped Appalachian League. Players for the visiting Elizabethton River Riders and Burlington Sock Puppets gathered in the home clubhouse prior to the game to hear from Thome.

“Everyone always asks what makes a big leaguer?” Thome said. “I always say a good routine.”

He mentioned all the long walks to the batting cage and how those add up to improvements. He recalled special instruction he received under former major league manager Charlie Manuel’s tutelage.

“We all know what it’s like to go through the grind,” Thome said. “So, so lucky to have health for that long. … I was so fortunate to have great coaches. I played in a great organization in Cleveland. Just very, very fond, great memories. You don’t play baseball to get to the Hall of Fame.”

The current college players peppered Thome with questions, most of those regarding hitting and the mental approach to being a successful batter.

Later, Thome was involved in an on-field pregame ceremony. His appearance stemmed from Major League Baseball’s partnership with the Appalachian League.

“It looks like they’ve done a lot of really great things here,” he said. “The ballparks across the country that have improved and probably have kept the joy of baseball around is so great.”

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