As a player, Jim Thome was awestruck whenever a Hall of Famer entered the clubhouse.
The kid from Peoria might look up and see Bob Feller with the Indians or Harmon Killebrew with the Twins.
“When a Hall of Famer walks into a room, to be honest, I always remembered like it stops a minute,” Thome said.
Two weeks after his Hall of Fame induction, Thome has become one of those baseball immortals. White Sox players stood at the top step of the dugout and leaned over the railing to hear him speak before the game Saturday.
The Sox celebrated “Jim Thome Day” with an on-field ceremony that featured members of the team’s top brass alongside former teammate Mark Buehrle and Thome’s family. Thome’s daughter, Lila, sang the national anthem, and Thome thanked everyone from chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to the groundskeepers during a lengthy speech.
There were gifts, too, as the Sox presented Thome with an oversized bat and a camouflage four-wheeler with “HOF 18” prominently displayed on the windshield. The festivities delayed the start of the game by 16 minutes, but nobody in the crowd of 28,061 seemed to mind.
Thome has enjoyed his whirlwind summer, but he looks forward to calmer days ahead when he can focus more on his role as special assistant to Sox general manager Rick Hahn. He plans to work with the club’s young players and is scheduled to attend instructional league for additional hands-on lessons.
“The draft is another one of my highlights,” Thome said. “And just, honestly, sitting around with Kenny [Williams] and Rick and Jerry and discussing the moves and things that this organization is going to [make] going 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.”
As a young player, Thome would keep quiet and study the veterans. He follows the same approach now as he watches Reinsdorf, Williams and Hahn map the organization’s future.
“I listen a lot,” Thome said. “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’ll get the information, and then he’s got a great personality.
“Top to bottom, I think our organization has a lot of those guys. They genuinely want to bring a championship here. I hope we’re all together to do that soon.”
Even after retirement, Thome has room to improve. He wants to adapt to the game’s new-school analytics.
“That wasn’t talked about in our [era] in the ’90s,” Thome said. “We didn’t talk about exit velocity. We practiced what my launch angle was; we just never spoke it. . . . That’s what I’m trying to learn now.”
Thome did not rule out managing one day but likes his current role. Regardless, he always will give advice to younger players eager to hear from a Hall of Famer.
“Trust the journey, trust the everyday process of the roller-coaster ride,” Thome said. “There’s going to be highs. There’s going to be lows. Me and [Paul] Konerko used to talk about this: It’s a basket. You’ve got a basket, and you put things in that basket, whether it’s what you do individually, whether it’s what you do as a team, and ultimately we’re all in this together.
“But things you do individually will add up as a team if you’re a good teammate. You should put things in the basket, and once the season’s almost done, you look up and go, ‘You know what? That basket helped us win.’ ”