Some of my favorite Jim Thome memories

Some of my favorite Jim Thome memories

I am thinking of Jim Thome today.

About his time with the Phillies.

And about his richly deserved election to Baseball's Hall of Fame on Wednesday (see story).

I am thinking of Jim Thome today, and here are a few things I remember most about the humble, goodhearted man who treated everyone well — except, of course, the pitchers who served up his 612 career homers.

• The Phillies wanted Thome badly, wanted him to be the centerpiece of their reawakening and the move into Citizens Bank Park. They spent the fall of 2002 passionately recruiting him. General manager Ed Wade ducked out of Thanksgiving Day preparations with his family to write Thome and his wife, Andrea, a passionate and heartfelt email in which he listed the reasons why he hoped Thome would sign with the Phillies, why he thought Thome would be a good fit with the team and the city. The email, and a six-year, $85 million contract, helped land Thome. But so did this: On the day Thome toured Philadelphia and the construction site that would become Citizens Bank Park, he was greeted with an impromptu pep rally from members of the Local 98 Electricians Union. The workers even presented the free-agent slugger with a cap emblazoned with words Philadelphia Wants Jim Thome. It really touched Thome, a blue-collar guy from Peoria, Illinois, whose dad, Chuck, worked making bulldozers for Caterpillar. Only a small portion of Thome's Hall of Fame career unfolded here in Philadelphia. That organic outpouring from Local 98 helped bring the man to town.

• I will never forget Thome's first spring training with the Phillies in 2003. It was a certifiable event, his every move chronicled by a band of reporters. One quiet morning at Carpenter Complex, Thome was taking batting practice on Robin Roberts Field. Manager Larry Bowa was pitching. Bowa is a great BP pitcher with an amazing knack for putting everything right in a hitter's wheelhouse. With all eyes on him, Thome turned on one of Bowa's perfect serves and drove it high over the right-field fence, so high that it cleared a weed-choked embankment and landed up on the edge of Highway 19, the heavily traveled road that slices through Pinellas County. How far did that ball travel? Intrepid reporter Bob Brookover found out. He borrowed a tape measure from the grounds crew and crawled up the embankment to where the ball landed near a construction site. Five-hundred thirty eight feet. And six inches. 538½ feet. That's more than a tenth of a mile. Wow. Did Jim Thome know how to announce his arrival, or what?

• A decade later and then a veteran near the end of his career, Thome was back with the Phillies in a reserve role in 2012. He hit five homers in 30 games with the Phils that season and two of them remain indelible. On June 13 in Minneapolis, he launched a 466-foot bomb over the centerfield wall. It landed in the concession area next to a stand that sold a local specialty — fried walleye on a stick. Thome was able to retrieve the home run ball, the 606th of his career. "I think it had a walleye stick in it," he joked. Ten days later, Thome hit the last of his 101 homers with the Phillies. It was a pinch-hit, walk-off shot to beat Tampa Bay at Citizens Bank Park. First-year Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon had blown a save in the top of the inning and promised $5,000 to the person who got him off the hook with a game-winning homer. Of course, Thome obliged. And the money was donated to charity.

• My first personal interaction with Thome came in a one-on-one interview not long after he signed with the Phillies. It was right before Christmas 2002. He was a new father, full of curiosity, bliss and wonderment over the arrival of his daughter, Lila. As he talked about the blessings of fatherhood, he asked me if I had kids. I said yes. He looked at me in that earnest way of his and said, "Let me ask you a question: Did your wife breastfeed?" He was always a one-of-a-kind superstar, completely real and down to earth.

• Thome's first and most notable stint in Philadelphia began with celebrations, a 47-homer season and a fourth-place finish in the NL MVP voting in 2003. It ended with much less fanfare. He was hurt in 2005 and Ryan Howard had come up to hit 22 home runs in 88 games to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. While some might have groused about a young player coming up and taking his job, Thome was pure class, a lesson in humility and humanity as he supported Howard. After the season, he was traded to the White Sox. He said he completely understood the move. He talked-up Howard, said he was going to be a star. And he said Philadelphia would always hold a special place in his heart. He said the same thing Wednesday night after learning he'd been elected to the Hall of Fame.

I was thinking about Jim Thome today and these are some of my favorite memories.

Energy, new look have Herrera 'presenting beautifully' to Kapler

Energy, new look have Herrera 'presenting beautifully' to Kapler

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Odubel Herrera showed up to Phillies camp with a new look Sunday. 
Bronze-tipped dreadlocks. A bronze goatee.
Manager Gabe Kapler, who encourages players to present themselves in a way that makes them feel confident, was impressed with his centerfielder’s style – and more.
“He looks amazing,” Kapler gushed. “He looks incredible. I think he is just physically presenting beautifully right now. He has a lot of energy. Obviously his smile is big and bold. He looks kind of cool. The hair is kind of cool and the beard, but more importantly he is in incredible athletic condition. You can tell he has put a lot of work in and we’re excited about what’s to come for Odubel.”
Herrera, 26, is entering his fourth season in the majors, all with the Phillies. He has been the team’s best player the last three seasons, leading the club in runs (218), hits (462), batting average (.288), doubles (93), extra-base hits (142), times on base (690), OPS (.774) and total bases (690) over that span.
Herrera sputtered at times in the first half of last season, but was outstanding, posting a .887 OPS over his final 88 games in 2017. 
When Herrera is motivated and focused, he is an electric player. But it’s no secret that he can occasionally be undisciplined, making baserunning blunders, forgetting how many outs there are and not running out balls.
So it was kind of interesting to hear Kapler say he planned on using Herrera as an example during Sunday night’s team welcome gathering at a Clearwater restaurant. Kapler encouraged players to dress in whatever attire that made them feel “confident.” He planned to address the group and trumpet his season theme of being “bold.” A video presentation was planned.
“We’re going to show some video tonight of Odubel on the bases and his ability to really change a play with his athleticism and a good turn around second base,” Kapler said.
Clearly, the skipper is taking a positive tack with Herrera, as he has done with every other player. Kapler met with Herrera over the winter in Miami and his message was all about looking forward and being positive.
“Not only is there a clean slate, but the meeting in Miami was much more about supporting,” Kapler said. “Before we have an opportunity to really sharpen, we have to build trust, we have to demonstrate that we really care about somebody, we have to support. And then it’s a whole lot easier when the time comes – and it absolutely will come – for us to raise the bar for our players and to have those more difficult conversations. 
“So I didn’t go to Miami or meet with any of our players to say, ‘Here are some things we need you to do differently from last year.’ I just think that is not an effective human strategy. Rather, it was, ‘Let’s talk about who you can be. Let’s dream together. Let’s see this as the sky’s the limit, not just as a team, but as individuals. So what are your carrots? What do you want to go after and how can we help you in your pursuit of those goals.' ”
Herrera was asked about his goals.
“The only one I can share with you is I want to help the team win,” he said. “But I have some personal ones that I want to keep to myself.”
Kapler believes that Herrera, entering the second season of a five-year, $30.5 million deal, can have a huge year.
“I told him he is an elite level defender in center field, which is absolutely true and fairly easy to quantify,” Kapler said. “I told him with some small adjustments he could be one of the best all-around center fielders in baseball. We believe that strongly.
“I told him the sky’s the limit for him and I believe he thinks that about himself. There is no ceiling. He wants to be an All-Star, he wants to be a Gold Glove defender and he’s not that far off from doing both of those things in the same season. There is no limitation for him, right. The ceiling is not low for Odubel Herrera. It’s incredibly high if there is one at all.”
Focus and the occasional lapse in hustle have been flaws in Herrera’s game. What happens if he slips up in 2018? Kapler suggested that Philadelphia’s discerning fans could play a part in keeping Herrera in line.
“The fans in Philadelphia expect us to give everything we have every night and they expect us to do it all over again the next day,” Kapler said. “Those are high expectations. Our players are going to have the foundation and the tools to meet those expectations.”

Carlos Santana is ready to show Maikel Franco the way

NBC Sports Philadelphia/AP Images

Carlos Santana is ready to show Maikel Franco the way

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The numbering is a little off in the Phillies’ spring training clubhouse. Usually lockers are assigned in numerical sequence, clockwise around the room. But this spring, No. 41 comes immediately after No. 7.


Because that’s the way Carlos Santana wanted it.

“I told the team that I wanted Maikel Franco right next to me,” the new first baseman said after his first workout with the club Saturday. “That's something that I wanted. I really like him. He's a special kid. I appreciate him a lot. And, not only him, the whole group is nice. But I really want to work with him and help him out.”

Santana, 31, and Franco, 25, are both natives of the Dominican Republic. They bonded this winter. After Santana signed with the Phillies in December, he worked out at the Phillies' academy in the DR with Franco.

It’s no secret this is a big year for Franco (see story). He needs to finally put together his potential or the team may look elsewhere – hello, Manny Machado – for its next third baseman.

Franco’s big area of need is Santana’s area of strength: Plate discipline. Santana walks almost as much as he strikes out. He has registered a career on-base percentage of .365 while averaging 24 homers over the last seven seasons. Franco has pop – he has hit 25 and 24 homers, respectively, the last two seasons – but his career on-base percentage is just .300 after a dip to .281 last season.

Santana has reached at least 100 walks twice in his career and at least 91 four other times. Franco had a career-best 41 walks last season.

Santana praised Victor Martinez for being a mentor to him early in his career. “That’s why I wear No. 41,” he said. Santana wants to be Franco’s Victor Martinez.

“We’re going to work together every single day,” Santana said. “We’re going to make sure he executes the plan he wants to follow. I know he’s a guy that’s very talented and he’s capable of a lot. So I’m going to be there. I’m committed to helping him. I’m going to be in the cage, hitting as many balls as possible. He already told me today that he wants to follow me everywhere he goes. If I have to go to the cage he’s going to go with me to hit some balls. He’s committed and I’m committed, too.”

The Phillies have baseball’s second-worst on-base percentage (.307, San Diego is .303) the last six seasons. The additions of Santana and J.P. Crawford to the lineup – and a full season of Rhys Hoskins, another selective hitter – should help the offense.

“When you have a guy (like Santana) in the middle of the lineup, grinding down the opposing pitcher – just imagine, you’re a pitcher on the other side and you’re delivering pitch after pitch that’s getting fouled off or a ball that is just off the corner and being taken, you get exhausted,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Guess who benefits from that? The next man up and the next man up and there’s this ripple effect. An exhausted starting pitcher or even an exhausted reliever is a really good thing for the Philadelphia Phillies.”

Santana signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Phillies in December. He said the Phillies’ young core reminds him of the group of youngsters that his former team, the Cleveland Indians, brought to the majors in recent seasons.

Unlike a number of other free agents who are still jobless in this unusual year for free agents, Santana jumped relatively early at the Phillies’ offer. He said it was “shocking” that so many free agents remain unsigned.

“I know baseball is going through a difficult time right now, with all of the free agents,” Santana said. “But it worked out for me. I am happy. I can only speak for myself, and I am happy I did it the way I did it. It's very surprising because there are a lot of talented free agents out there. I thought it would be very different from what it's been.”

To prepare for the new season and the new team, Santana worked with a personal trainer in the Dominican Republic. In one of the drills, he was forced to push a car.

“It was a complete workout,” he said. “It wasn't only to get ready for preseason, it was also to get ready for the season and be successful during the season.

“It's a positive atmosphere here. I see a lot of young guys, very hungry and very eager to win. You can tell everyone is ready to go here.”