Thome crushes No. 499 against Indians
Slugger nears milestone against former ballclub
CHICAGO -- Friday night around 7:30 p.m. CT comes around, and let's say you are a fan sitting in the right-field bleachers at U.S. Cellular Field for the series opener between the Angels and White Sox.
Jim Thome comes to the plate in the first inning and launches a Bartolo Colon fastball into that same exact bleacher section, right into the spot where you are sitting. Now, the quandary arises.
Is that special baseball, marking Thome's 500th home run, returned to the affable designated hitter? Is it placed on a shelf of a bookcase at home? Or is it sold to the highest bidder? A few of the fans sitting in the vicinity of Thome's 499th home run on Wednesday offered up their thoughts on getting hold of this history-making item.
"I would give it back and I wouldn't even want money," said Dom Storey, a White Sox fan wearing a Thome jersey to Wednesday's 7-4 victory for the White Sox. "Season tickets for next year, I would be very happy with. Two tickets for it, I would give it up, no problem at all."
"I'd probably just ask for an autographed picture or something cool like that in return, some memorabilia, and just give it back to him," added Jason Debernardi, a fan in attendance from Hinkley, Ill.
Debernardi admitted most fans would put the baseball on eBay, especially if they thought a five-figure monetary return was possible in exchange. With the White Sox in such a woeful state as a team, waiting for Thome to become the 23rd player in Major League history to reach 500 home runs becomes the only matter of true concern.
Storey has season tickets in the third row behind the visitors' dugout at U.S. Cellular, but moved to the right-field bleachers after No. 498 in order to be in place for 500. Warren Schnell, a baseball fan more than a White Sox fan on an excursion from St. Louis, didn't even know if his group would get to see Thome play Wednesday in a day game following a night game.
"We were looking forward to seeing him get a couple of at-bats and hopefully move closer to 500," Schnell said.
Those in attendance from the announced crowd of 23,537 had their collective wish granted. Thome launched a 2-0 pitch from Jake Westbrook down the right-field line leading off the fourth inning, a drive that had the distance but barely curled just inside the right-field foul pole and ended up in the popular bullpen bar area.
This blast became Thome's 27th home run of the season and his fourth of the current homestand. It was the Peoria, Ill., native's third home run in 22 career at-bats against Westbrook and sixth lifetime against the franchise for which he played the first 12 seasons of his illustrious career.
As soon as Thome made contact, he knew the line drive would carry out. Suddenly, reality set in for the prolific slugger.
"After that one, it kind of was like, 'Whoa, you are getting close,'" said Thome with a smile. "The fans were getting into it and you could kind of feel the excitement in the dugout. It's a matter of going out and not really thinking about it, but it's tough. It's really been awesome."
"Now, he has a good chance of doing it here in Chicago," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen added. "Hopefully, he comes through in those three games [against the Angels]. It's always nice to see something like that, especially the way we're going."
Guillen talked about that same dugout buzz addressed by Thome, and the special feeling brought about even when the baseballs were exchanged by the home-plate umpire to get the official one in play for Thome's attempt at 500. Thome's family -- namely his wife, Andrea, his father, Chuck, his daughter, Lila, and his sister -- was in attendance to celebrate the accomplishment.
Two more chances to reach 500 came Thome's way Wednesday in the fifth against Westbrook and then in the seventh off of left-handed reliever Cliff Lee. Thome dropped a two-run, broken-bat single to right in his first at-bat and singled and scored on Paul Konerko's home run in that final trip to the plate.
Truth be told, Thome was satisfied with the singles, but he was going for the long ball.
"I was trying to get a pitch to drive," said Thome, after admitting he was thinking home run. "The one [in his seventh-inning at-bat], I almost fouled it out of the stadium. I got a little quick on it.
"There's a lot of emotion that goes through you. That's what makes that so tough to do, trying to control that emotion and keep those emotions in, but be ready to hit. It's a fun time, so enjoy it."
For those preparing for Friday night, Thome has never faced Colon but does know a thing or two about the hard-throwing right-hander after playing behind the Indians' one-time ace from 1997 to 2002. And for those wondering what sort of return could be headed their way if they come up with Thome's blast ...
Well, they will have to wait until Friday for the official announcement.
"There are some things that we've talked about," said Thome, who would become the first player wearing a White Sox uniform to reach 500. "It will be neat. It will be fun for the fans. We've come up with some really good ideas. Hopefully, it will happen here. The White Sox fans deserve it."
"Thome has earned his 500," Storey added. "There aren't any accusations of juice. He's done it all natural. I would rather be here for his game than for [Barry] Bonds and his record-breaking home run."
Guillen actually was glad this race to 500 will continue on until Friday, when Thome has a chance to achieve glory in front of a little bigger audience than what was left over at the end Wednesday. With Thome planning to take the baseball to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame with his father, Guillen hopes Thome is able to retrieve the baseball as he did with No. 499.
"If you're going to keep it, that's different," Guillen said. "But when you hear Jimmy say he's going to donate it to the Hall of Fame, it belongs to baseball. Hopefully, nobody gets hurt trying to catch the ball."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Alex Gyr, an associate reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.