While in High School/College in the mid to late 90's in Cary, IL my summer job was as a clubhouse attendant at a local golf course. The course had just went through a major renevation while I was there and became one of the top courses in the Chicagoland area. Once the improvements were made the course started to attract a lot more outings and events and the highlighted event was former Cub Ron Santo's annual JDRF outing. As an 18 year old huge sports fan it was great to see people and players I only had seen on TV, live and in person. Kerry Wood was there not long after his 20 strikeout performance. Cubs legends Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, and Randy Hundley made the trip. PGA player Scott Verplank, who is also a diabetic, gave his time for a charity he truly believes in. Actor Mark Harmon flew in to play in the event. Members of the Cubs at that time including Mark Clark, Jose Hernandez, Tyler Houston, Terry Mulholland, Steve Trachsel, Scott Servais, Mickey Morandini, along with manager Jim Riggleman all gave up their rare off day to drive the 90 minutes from the city to play in this charity outing,
This specific Cubs team wasn't loaded with hall of famers and none of the the above mentioned players probably would get mobbed at the mall today, but it was still exciting for a lover of baseball to get the chance to see people who got paid to play the game. While getting things prepared for the outing and making sure people got to the correct carts so that the outing would begin without a flaw, I noticed a name on the golf sheet that surprised me. Jim Thome. Thome played for the Cleveland Indians at the time and I wondered how he could play in a golf outing in Illinois during the middle of the baseball season. It turned out the Indians were about to begin a series in Milwaukee against the Brewers, who were in the American League still at the time, and had an off day that Monday. Thome drove down from Milwaukee to play in this event.
Most of the players and celebrities in this event were happy to be there and enjoyed there time, but they made their appearance stayed until the end and went home. As employees of the course, we were instructed to just do our job and not to socialize with the players or ask for autographs,etc. We all followed the rules and some players would talk with us and thank us for working the outing which always felt good. Then I met Jim Thome.
I've met athletes and celebrities and a lot of them are different than what you see on TV. Some who the media label as great guys or class acts are absolute jerks. No matter who you ask or listen to on TV I've never heard a bad word about Jim Thome. That day I got to spend with Jim, I couldn't agree more. He was genuine, he was humble, he would talk to you like he was actually interested in what you were saying. The outing was over and tents were being packed up, grills were loaded up, the parking lot was close to empty. All that was left was a few golfers from the outing, most of the course staff, and Jim Thome. It was such a great experience to talk to someone who was famous and was no different than talking to your neighbor. With all of the egos and athletes in trouble with the law, sports could use more Jim Thome's. I'm not a huge fan of people having athletes as role models, but Jim Thome is role model worthy.
I always get perplexed when I see Thome return to Cleveland and get showered with boo's from the crowd. Thome had a great career as an Indian and was a key figure in their success. Yes he left to go to Philadelphia for more money, but that is what happens in sports today. It's not like he demanded a trade or bashed the team on his way out. Cleveland offered him a contract, but it wasn't close to what Philadelphia offered because they seemed like they were ready to move in a different direction with Travis Hafner ready to take the role as the team's lefty slugger. Similar to what the Yankees did with Joe Torre. "Here is an offer that we know you won't take, and thanks for what you did for us". It's not like Thome announced on ESPN that he was taking his talents for cheesesteaks.
Yesterday was a great day for Jim Thome and all his fans. I am honored to have met him even though it was just one day. I was happy he played in Chicago for a few seasons and had success. Who know's if Thome will make the Hall of Fame or not. In my opinion he deserves it, but with the voters you never know. Jim Thome is a class act and what is right with sports. Congratulations on #600. Couldn't happen to a greater person,