One-on-One with Hall of Famer Jim Thome

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This Q&A originally appeared in a 1999 issue of Junior Baseball with the Hall of Fame-bound slugger:

JB: Did you know early on that you had good baseball skills?

JT: I never really learned how to hit until I got here (to the majors), from coach Charlie Manuel. I lived in a sports-oriented town. And my family was sports-oriented. My aunt, Carolyn Thome, is in the Softball Hall of Fame. My uncle and my dad’s dad, Chuck Thome, played.

JB: At what age did you start playing?

JT: Probably 7 or 8. We didn’t have T-ball then. I played in the Peoria Little League. There were probably six or seven teams, a good league. We had a program where you came in the morning to work out, worked on your skills and then played that night. That was great. It was fun playing. We got to play a lot. Playing every day as a kid, having fun, enjoying the game, was the main thing.

JB: What great games do you remember as a Little Leaguer?

JT: When I first got called up to the ‘majors,’ as they called it, I hit two home runs in my first game. They went over the fence. It was great. I had one great coach, Mr. Trotter, who coached my brothers, too. He was a great man. He had us
taking ground balls - rubber balls - on the blacktop when it was raining.

JB: Did you play on days you didn’t have games?

JT: Yes. I’d wear my Cubs helmet and throw the ball against the brick wall. I’d act like I was Andre Dawson or Ryne
Sandberg. That’s the game everybody calls 'fastpitch’ or 'strikeout.’

JB: When did you feel you developed the right kind of confidence needed as a ballplayer?

JT: In Double-A. In high school, you don’t know your ability. Double-A is when I really started feeling comfortable
about playing at this level. You learn every day. I hit well in high school and college. But I learned about the game in Double-A. I kept seeing improvement.

JB: When did you start playing third base, the position at which you broke into the majors?

JT: I had been a shortstop since I started. Then they converted me into a third baseman when I signed with the Indians. Shortstop was fun, but I knew eventually I’d have to play one of the corners.

JB: What’s the best way to learn how to hit?

JT: I can honestly say as a kid, the main thing is to have fun playing the game. What parents and kids have to realize is
that you have to enjoy the game young and have fun playing it. Try to make contact. Try to put the bat on the ball. As you grow older and become a hitter, you’ll learn more about the game of hitting. Don’t work on one aspect, hitting or
fielding. It’s all about having fun.

JB: How, as a left-handed hitter, do you learn to hit left-handed pitching?

JT: Just face them. If your dad’s left-handed, it’s even better. He can throw to you. David Justice said he had a lot of
friends who threw left-handed. They threw to him and that helped him out.

JB: Do you recommend signing out of high school or attending college?

JT: It depends on the player. Some guys are better suited to go to college; some are better to come out of high school. It depends if you want to come out and learn early (in pro ball).

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