Finally. A milestone home run everybody can celebrate.
Congratulations on No. 500, Jim Thome. And thank you.
We want our sports heroes to be good citizens, good team players and good role models. We want them to work hard and play harder. We don't want to hear about them doing drugs, brawling in bars or showing up late for batting practice. We want them to leave the trash talk in the dumpster and "act like they've been there before." We don't begrudge them their millions as long as they give back to their sport and society.
So when Thome sent No. 500 deep into the Chicago sky Sunday - a ninth-inning shot that lifted the White Sox to a 9-7 victory over the L.A. Angels - it was more than a marvelous moment for this hard-working son of a Caterpillar foreman, this Pride of Peoria, this humble man from the heartland.
It was a triumph for idealists everywhere.
Thome is no brooding Barry. No aloof A-Rod. No moody Big Hurt. No bat-corking Sammy. His accomplishments require no asterisks. There are no steroid-related suspicions. When discussing his Hall of Fame credentials, there is no need to add:
"Yeah, but ... "
The only thing Jim Thome is guilty of is being too good to be true.
"Everybody loves him," said his manager, Ozzie Guillen. "He represents baseball the way everybody should. He plays the game the way everybody should. We need this. The White Sox organization needs this. Baseball needs this."
Yes, baseball needed a milestone home run we could appreciate and a man we could admire - no ifs, ands or syringe-in-the-butts.
Thome is 250 pounds of professionalism and passion, of decency and sincerity, of heart and generosity, of what our sports icons should be.
"His mother and father did a hell of a job, so you can't give him all the credit," White Sox GM Ken Williams said of Chuck Thome and his late wife, Joyce. "If all the folks in Peoria are this nice, I have to get down there."
"Nice" isn't a nice enough word to describe Thome.
Before Friday's game, Gaby de la Cruz, a 14-year-old boy who has had 16 brain surgeries and is confined to a wheelchair, removed a purple, plastic bracelet from his wrist and gave it to Thome. The inspirational slogan read: "FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION."
As Thome slipped the bracelet over his massive right hand, he told Gaby: "Thank you. I'm going to wear this right now. Thank you very much. I really appreciate this. Thank you so much."
Just like that, Jim Thome had another fan for life.
If you talk to him about the dozens of charities he supports, the favorite-son status he has enjoyed at each of his three big-league stops (Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago) and his popularity throughout baseball, all you'll get from him is an "aw-shucks" smile.
Heroic? Special? He'd never use such words to describe himself.
"It's pretty simple," he said. "I've always believed you should treat people the way you want to be treated."
Thome's winning attitude and kind acts impress even macho baseball men.
"I saw this kid play and now I'm managing him and it's something I'm never gonna forget," Guillen said. "He's a great player, a gamer, a guy people should look up to. As big a star as he is and as much money as he makes, he's never big-leagued
anybody. Jim Thome is the best."
Some Clevelanders aren't as fond of him. Only months after downplaying the importance of money and saying he wanted to spend his entire career there, Thome bolted for Philadelphia's big-bucks offer. Many Indians fans call Thome a hypocrite.
On his Hall of Fame plaque, Thome will be wearing an Indians hat. Cleveland fans will remember him for the 178 baseballs he sent out of Jacobs Field, the two World Series they made during his time there and the impact he had on the community.
Really, how could anybody stay mad at Jim Thome?
His fans in Cleveland and Peoria and Chicago and everywhere else will have to wait for the enshrinement ceremony, though. The 37-year-old slugger isn't ready to stop at 500. He's such a positive thinker, he even thinks he can help the White Sox win another championship.
"When I was injured this year, the team went on a West Coast trip and I went home," Thome said. "The plan was to do nothing for 10 days. A few days in, I told my wife: 'Oh, my God, I don't think I can retire.'
"I love coming to the ballpark. I love the competition. I even love when I'm struggling, trying to figure it out, the mind game with yourself that is baseball. When I think about it, I find it hard to believe I'll ever get tired of the game.
"I just love baseball too much."
You know what, Jim? The feeling's mutual.
Mike Nadel (email@example.com) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.