Jim Thome pondered retirement after the Twins’ playoff loss to the New York Yankees in the 2010 Wild Card playoffs, but he has decided to return to a place he truly loves in the Twin Cities. Thome came into Minnesota last season with barely any expectations after a short stint in Los Angeles with the Dodgers hoping for another shot to prove he still had what it took to play in the big leagues. He proved that in a big way last season helping fuel the Twins lineup by clubbing 25 home runs, driving in 59 runs and posting an 1.039 OPS last season.
The 2010 American League Champion Texas Rangers had sought after Thome this offseason, but he decided to return to Minnesota due in part to his genuine excitement to be around a young ball club and the proximity that the Twins offered for his family to go see him. Thome signed a one-year, $3 million dollar deal plus incentives to give it another crack this year as he sits at 589 career home runs. He is currently the second active leader among home runs in baseball only trailing Alex Rodriquez (613) as his chase for baseball’s exclusive fraternity of 600 home runs will be a compelling story line going into the 2011 season. The Twins are happy to have Thome back for another run at their stronghold of the American League Central and a pursuit of a World Series championship.
Jim Thome joined ESPN 1500 in Minneapolis with Reusse and Mackey to discuss re-signing with the Twins, was it his main focus to come back and re-sign with Minnesota throughout free agency, what it was like to play in Target Field last season, was he surprised with the amount of production he put up last season and the Twins locker room being one of the more low key and quiet ones he has ever played in.
On re-signing with the Twins and coming back for another shot to make the new Target Field look small?
“You know what I am. It was a wonderful place to play. You know getting an opportunity to come there for the first time last year. It was an exciting place. My family loved it. We had a great summer. You know we obviously won the division, had opportunity to get into the playoffs. I mean really as a player that’s all you can ask is to give yourself that chance. It’s a good place to play. We’re excited to be back.”
Throughout the whole free agency process was it your main focus to come back and re-sign with Minnesota?
“It was, it was, yes, yes. When I left for the season obviously sitting down with my family we wanted to come back and do this. We always put Minnesota very, very high on our list. The Texas Rangers obviously you now came at us and were wonderful. What a class organization that was, meeting all those people and getting an opportunity to talk with them. You know they do. They have a very, very good organization. They had an opportunity to go to the World Series. From that end it was a difficult decision, but in the end playing with those guys, getting an opportunity to be around those guys every day in that locker room, being in the new ballpark with the fans and the excitement the fans brought to us every day. That was something you can’t replace. In the end I think as a player family came first on the list. That was probably the biggest decision in all this was that I got an opportunity to be close to them. They’re close to Minnesota now, able to come up and bounce out. Honestly we’re really excited to come back. Minnesota is a wonderful place. We’re looking forward to it. We’re looking forward to getting back into the grind here and get going and competing in this division and seeing where we can go.”
What was it like playing in Target Field? Did it give you some extra juice and make you feel young again?
“It did, it did and my teammates. You know there all good, young players. They enjoy playing the game. Their very respectful. They do things right. They work hard. You know they respect the game. To be a veteran guy you couldn’t really ask for a bunch of better guys to play with in the end. The Cuddyer’s, Mauer, you know Morneau, Punto, Valencia, young guy who came up and did a great job for us. You know our pitching staff. They’re all solid. They throw strikes. They let our defense play behind them. I think what happens is when you play you get an opportunity to play with guys. I think in anybody’s decision especially mine that was a big part of it. I’m excited to see those guys. I’ll be texting them now, letting them know, get ready for spring training. It’s time to go again and we’ll have some fun.”
When you look back at last season as a whole did it surprise you with the amount of production you produced?
“Well I think as a player you have high demands on yourself. You have very high demands on yourself. I mean I was in a new role. I was in a new role. I didn’t put any expectations out there because you know the bottom line is I didn’t know how much I was going to play. When I got the opportunity to play more you know you just play the game. You don’t think about things. You don’t analyze things. You just go out and go to the ballpark. You grind. You’re consistent. You just go play. There’s going to be good times. There’s going to be bad times. All in all I thought Gardy [Ron Gardenhire] did a great job in how he handled that situation. You know how he played me. As the player though you go to the ballpark every day with the mentality that you’re going to play, you’re going to be a big part, whether you’re coming off the bench or starting that day because that feeds the bench. You know that feeds the bench and everyone around you. As a veteran that’s a big thing. You want young guys to see you positive and be energetic and lifting guys when they do something good. It was exciting. I’ll tell you what I had a hell of a fun summer last year. It was great.”
Is the Twins locker room one of the more low key and quiet places you have ever played in?
“You know I don’t know if it’s a quiet group. It’s an exciting group that behind closed doors we get excited to play. When we’re facing the White Sox and we have a big series and we know it’s game on and we’re getting ready to go it’s intense. It’s intense. I wouldn’t say it’s a quiet group. It may seem quiet on the outside, but on the inside it’s a bunch of guys that are ready to rock. At game time we’re out and ready to play hard. Again, I think that weighed into my decision that you’re around a bunch of young guys that are hungry, that want to win and go out and play it the right way and have fun. Hopefully we can do that again.”