On an August night in this future-facing season, the White Sox momentarily took a look to the past.
Jim Thome, the Land of Lincoln native who spent four seasons on the South Side and immediately became a fan favorite, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this summer, and the White Sox honored him before Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Indians, the team whose cap Thome is sporting on his Hall of Fame plaque.
As fun as it was for fans to get to see the team celebrate one of the all-time greats — they lined up for his bobblehead and gave him a standing ovation during the pregame ceremony — Thome is also a part of this rebuilding effort on the South Side. It’s a process designed to return the White Sox to the postseason for the first time since Thome’s days. It was he, of course, who hit the home run in the Blackout Game that clinched the team’s most recent playoff berth a decade ago.
Thome is a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn and had nothing but great things to say about the team’s brain trust of Hahn, team president Kenny Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Most notably, he commended their drive to bring a winner to Chicago, a process that fans are seeing play out before their eyes on a nightly basis throughout all levels of the organization.
Thome, as part of his role, imparts bits of wisdom about hitting to the organization’s young players. His 612 career home runs and new status as one of the game’s immortals should be ample credentials for the guys who are planned to one day make up the next White Sox team to contend for a championship.
“I look forward to getting back and getting out on the road and seeing our young, great prospects,” Thome said. “I’m going to Instructional League, I look forward to that, that’s always one of the highlights. The draft is another one of my highlights.
“And just honestly sitting around with Kenny and Rick and Jerry and discussing the moves and things that this organization is going to (do to) go forward. To be a part of that is very special. They’ve given me the opportunity to be around the game in that capacity, which I’ve got to say is very fun. I really have enjoyed it.
“Being around Rick and Kenny, the motivation to win is big. So that drove me now from this side, to try to be a part of a championship, just not as a player anymore, but now in the front office.
“Kenny’s great at scouting. Rick has a great demeanor. I think Rick is very well suited for his job. I think one of his biggest strengths is he’s a great listener. … He’s got a great personality. Top to bottom, I think our organization has a lot of those guys. They genuinely, passionately want to bring a championship here. I hope we’re all together to do that soon.”
White Sox fans, and the team as well, are hoping that the next Thome — and the next Konerko, Pierzynski, Buehrle, Dye, et cetera — is among the wave of highly touted prospects about to wash ashore on the South Side. And in addition to the production that would bring, they hope the connection to this organization and to this fan base is just as strong as Thome’s.
“This is so special,” he said of being honored Saturday. “This is my family, this is where I work, this is where we live. I think you all know my relationship with Mr. Reinsdorf. This is really special.”