Homer milestone on Thome's 2011 horizon
Veteran slugger is 11 long balls shy of 600 plateau
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Thome is keenly aware that he's closing in on 600 career home runs, and is just 11 homers shy of reaching that historic plateau.
But the Twins' designated hitter and 20-year big league veteran is simply doing his best to avoid dwelling too much on the history that could very well be made this season.
"I don't think about it until I'm asked," Thome said, with his trademark hearty smile. "I know that number is out there. But the bottom line is that it's a process, and you have to be healthy and let it play itself out. But if it happens, we'll enjoy it -- and it would be a great thing.
"But I'm not wrapped up every day thinking about that," Thome added. "The bottom line is that every time you come to the ballpark, you want to do things to help your team win. But this is about the long process of winning, and if you do that, all of the other things will take care of themselves."
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Thome has long taken care of himself, too -- staying in peak form at the plate, while hitting homers at every stop along the way in his time with the Indians, Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers and Twins.
It was certainly evident last year that he's not ready to stop, either, as he hit 25 homers in his first season with the Twins -- with an impressive batting line of .283/.412/.627 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his age-40 season.
He's back again this season with the Twins, and is expected to serve as a co-designated hitter -- along with Jason Kubel -- while also getting plenty of opportunities to pinch-hit late in games.
It's a role Thome is comfortable with. And if he stays healthy and hits anything close to the way he did last season, the 600-homer plateau is certainly within his reach this year.
But Thome prefers not to look that far ahead, as he tries to stay in the moment, knowing he can't hit 11 homers with one swing. If he gets to that historic mark, it'll be a moment he'll treasure. But it's something Thome says he won't fully appreciate until he's done playing baseball.
"It's a little hard to think about," Thome said. "When you play baseball, you never think about that. You don't think about the long haul and the long-term stuff. But I've been blessed throughout my career to be healthy, and be on great teams with great teammates and coaches. So it would be very special."
Thome also knows the names ahead of him on the list, and is in awe of historic power hitters such as Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, as well as his contemporaries -- Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa.
Thome is currently ranked eighth on the all-time home run list, and would become the eighth player to surpass the 600-home run mark. It's certainly select company, and Thome said it would be an honor to join that exclusive club.
"It's humbling," Thome said. "It would be a tremendous thing, if it happens. We'd enjoy it. It'd be very, very cool."
Thome, long known as one of baseball's good guys, also always makes sure to say "we" when referring to celebrating the historic home-run mark. It's his way of noting that it's also a team honor, and he couldn't have had success throughout his career without the help of his teammates and coaches along the way.
So while Thome is excited about the potential of reaching that milestone, he also has one more goal in mind: He'd like to win a World Series title before his days are finished. That's why he decided to return to the Twins -- winners of the last two American League Central titles -- with the hope of getting to the postseason and leading the club to its first title since 1991.
"We brought a lot of guys back, and we have some new guys that I think can be pieces of the puzzle to absolutely put us in that position again," Thome said. "You head toward it ... in April. Every piece is a process. So if we just stay true and healthy, and do what we can do, hopefully we can be in that position."