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Thome creates a few more Minny memories

September 16, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — Jim Thome didn’t know if he would ever get the chance to return to Cleveland. And while the last three weeks have not exactly gone according to plan for the Indians, it’s been a special experience for Thome.

It was another homecoming of sorts for Thome on Friday, as the slugger returned to Target Field for the first time since rejoining the Indians through a late-August waiver-wire trade from the Twins, who will receive a player to be named on or before Oct. 15.

Thome returned to a standing ovation from Twins fans when he was announced before his first at-bat, and ended up going 2-for-4 on the night, including a solo homer off Joe Nathan in the ninth inning that proved to be the difference in the Indians’ 7-6 win.

“Any time you can pick up an extra run, or if you can get two runs in the ninth, you never know,” Thome said. “Sometimes that can be big. It ended up being big. They battled back — credit them. But we played a pretty good ballgame tonight. It’s big to get that win.”

Even Twins manager Ron Gardenhire couldn’t help but be in awe of Thome, even though his homer gave the Indians a much-needed insurance run, as the Twins rallied for two runs in the ninth but fell just short to lose their sixth straight game.

“No matter what team you’re on, whenever he walks up to the plate, you’re always interested in watching him,” Gardenhire said. “He got us tonight, but we’ve seen him get lots of people, and he’s gotten us plenty of times before. It’s nice to see him back in town, but I’d still like to end up with a win and shake hands.”

As he sat in the visitor’s clubhouse before the series opener, Thome had plenty of good things to say about his time in Minnesota.

“I don’t look at the amount of home runs, I don’t look at the production. I look at the time.” Thome said. “The production is great. It’s great. But there’s more to it than just getting an opportunity to come over. It was meeting new people.

“All in all, you go to grind with guys for two years. You go to war with those guys. You appreciate them as your brothers. They’re pretty much like your brothers. My time here was great. From the fans, we can’t forget the fans. The fans have been great. For me, it’s very, very special.”

In 179 games for the Twins over two seasons, Thome batted .266 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs. Thome was always a threat in big situations for the Twins. He noted his walk-off homer on Aug. 17, 2010, off Matt Thornton against the White Sox — a 10th-inning two-run blast — as one of his most memorable moments with Minnesota.

Thome was limited by injuries this season, playing in just 71 games with the Twins and serving two stints on the disabled list. But he provided a few highlights this season, including hitting his 600th career home run in Detroit.

“In all honesty, it’s fun to watch him walk up [to the plate] no matter what uniform he’s in, but I’d love to see him walking up in ours,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Everybody here had an opportunity to hang with a pretty special person, a great baseball player. … We got to see No. 600 and that made it really pretty cool.”

In his first 17 games since being traded to the Indians, Thome hit .250 with one home run, three RBIs and two doubles.

Nine years after leaving for Philadelphia and making stops in Chicago, Cleveland and Minnesota along the way, Thome returned to Cleveland on Aug. 26, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 41,337 as he stepped in for his first at-bat. Thome hit a homer a day later, the 335th of his Indians career and 602nd overall.

“Getting an opportunity to go back and be in a place where you all started is kind of a neat experience,” Thome said.

“Wherever you start there’s always going to be that sentimental spot in your heart towards that team. And then, if you’re lucky to play almost twenty years, you wonder at the end, if you will ever get that opportunity to come back. I was granted that wish to do it. It is something very special. I will never forget it. That first night in Cleveland was very special.

As he was asked about his time in Minnesota and Cleveland, Thome talked a lot about the relationships with teammates and giving advice to younger, inexperienced players.

Indians manager Manny Acta said Thome’s influence in the clubhouse has been the biggest thing he has brought to the team.

“He’s hit a ton of home runs in our clubhouse and in our dugout,” Acta said. “He hit a huge one that helped us win a ballgame on the field, but other than that, he’s been a great influence on our young kids and coaching staff. He’s just very supportive of all of these guys and he shares a lot of knowledge. He’s a special person. He contributes in a lot of ways other than just swinging a bat.”

While he and the Indians may not have been able to keep up with the Tigers this month, Thome said he expected big things out of the Indians in coming years.

“They’ve got a chance to be really, really good here for a long time,” Thome said. “I think it’s kind of neat from my end to see them do what they’re doing, because where you start, ultimately you always have history there.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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