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Thome looking forward to HR Derby
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07/06/2004  7:02 PM ET
Thome looking forward to HR Derby
Slugger participating in All-Star event for third time
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Slugger Jim Thome (right) is eager to put on a show for the fans in Houston. (H. Rumph Jr./AP)

PHILADELPHIA -- Jim Thome realizes the special group he's going to be in next Monday, when he competes in the Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby in Houston. But the Phils' mountainous first baseman is going into this contest of elite sluggers with a simple thought: Grip it and rip it.

This year's Home Run Derby will honor MLB's exclusive 500 Home Run Club, both active and retired members. MLB extended invitations to participate to active 500-homer members Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. So far, Sosa, Palmeiro and Griffey have confirmed. Also confirmed at this point are Thome, Jason Giambi and Vladimir Guerrero.

Thome, who leads the Major Leagues with 27 home runs, hit his 400th career homer earlier this season. He will be joined in Houston by all of the living members of the 500-home run club: Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, Mark McGwire, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray and Frank Robinson.

"I just think that any time you're mentioned with those names and to be a part of that is an honor," Thome said. "You're talking about tremendous players, tremendous hitters who have accomplished a lot in the game. To be mentioned with those guys is very humbling, but you have to enjoy every minute of it.

"I think home run-hitting contests are great for the fans. They really get a kick out of them. That's what the game is all about, giving back, giving to the fans and the people who recognize you."

Thome will be bringing with him Phils catching instructor Mick Billmeyer, who will pitch to Thome.

2004 Home Run Derby

"There are no secrets in something like this," said Billmeyer, who has been part of the Phillies organization since 2000. "I just hope I throw strikes. I've never done this before. I'm just going to do what I do every day. Throw down the middle and let Jim do what he wants. I just need to be loose. My intention is to go there, have fun and hope I don't mess it up."

Then Billmeyer stepped back and laughed. "It's my fault if he doesn't win," Billmeyer said.

This will be the third time Thome has competed in the All-Star Game home run hitting contest. As a member of the Indians, Thome competed in the Home Run Derby in Cleveland in 1997 and in Colorado in 1998. He did much better in '98 than in '97.

"I'm blessed and I'm in awe to be going to the All-Star Game," Thome said. "I remember the game in 1999 when Ted Williams came out. My dad was in the stands and to watch my dad and what players like Williams meant to him, and to be in the same game as the 500-homer guys, that's kind of a neat situation.

"You think you're going to wake up and it's all going to be a dream. But it's something you really cherish and I think it's something you really look forward to. I just want to have fun. Just grip it and rip it. That's what it's all about."

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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