Thome ready to help Sox win again

Thome ready for whatever Sox have for him

CHICAGO -- Jim Thome doesn't mind serving primarily as the White Sox designated hitter for the 2006 season, especially if it means Paul Konerko's return via free agency. Thome also doesn't have an issue stepping in at first base if Konerko opts to move on to another franchise.

Actually, Thome seems pretty much ready to do anything for the White Sox as long as it helps push the South Siders to their second straight World Series title. Thome expressed that exact sentiment Monday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, as the affable slugger met the Chicago media for the first time since being traded from Philadelphia, with $22 million of cash considerations, for Aaron Rowand and two Minor League hurlers.

"I'm not a hard guy to get along with," Thome said. "My role is to help this club win in whatever capacity. I'm getting a little older, and I've had a taste of the playoffs, but not the full, ultimate taste.

"So, it's all about winning. My first goal is to stay healthy. Then, whatever role I'm put into, that's fine. Let's just go out and win another one. That's what is unique about this situation. It should be fun."

Thome, 35, begins his 16th season in the Majors and 13th in the American League. The native of Peoria, Ill., had nothing but glowing reviews to hand out Monday in regard to his three years in Philadelphia, despite hitting .207 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs in 193 at-bats and 59 games last season. It was the first time in Thome's career that he battled injury trouble, and in the process, lost his starting job to Ryan Howard, the eventual National League Rookie of the Year.

The problems began with Thome's back and continued July 1, when he was put on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his right elbow. Thome would not play again in 2005, eventually having surgery on his troublesome elbow.

His back pain was corrected through a July visit to noted specialist Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles, who set up a strict program of maintenance for Thome to follow. The problems weren't caused by anything in particular -- not even the explosive swing Thome features at the plate -- aside from wear and tear over time.

Although he has not swung a bat yet during his rehabilitation program, Thome believes he's on track to enter Spring Training in February without any limitations. Even when healthy, Thome doesn't usually start swinging in the offseason until after the first of the New Year.

"We are going to start getting after it in the next month," said Thome of swinging the bat. "You have to prepare yourself physically before stepping in so you don't hurt anything again.

"My goal is to continue the program over the next three months before Spring Training starts and listen to the people who are trying to help me," Thome added.

Thome met with White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider last week, and came away impressed. Schneider dealt with his fair share of back issues in 2005 with treatment to third baseman Joe Crede and closer Dustin Hermanson. Judging by the pained way Thome reacted when hearing about the two herniated discs in Crede's back, his issues don't seem to be quite as potent.

Monday's press conference not only featured Thome, but also his wife Andrea. Rick Hahn, the White Sox assistant general manager, introduced Thome and presented jersey No. 25 to the standout left-handed hitter with 430 career home runs. General manager Ken Williams was scheduled to be in attendance for the press conference, but a bout with kidney stones prevented Williams from making the trip.

Hahn pointed out that the Thome trade was the culmination of a long pursuit by the White Sox, starting "under the radar" when Thome was a free agent prior to the 2003 season. When the White Sox started to look at ways to improve the team for 2006, a left-handed power bat was first on that particular list and Thome's name was right at the top.

Once Pat Gillick took over as the Phillies' general manager, there were a number of conversations between the two sides -- including the group getting together at the general manager meetings in Indian Wells, Calif. According to Hahn, the deal came together rather quickly in the end.

"We are thrilled to have him here," said Hahn of Thome. "It's a great honor to welcome Jim to Chicago and to welcome Jim home."

"It's as close as coming home as we can get, and we are thrilled," Andrea Thome added. "The White Sox were on Jim's short list, and he was thrilled when he got the call that this was going to happen. His dad and his whole family in Peoria are over the moon. It's important for Jim to be near home, and important for them as well."

Thome has yet to talk with manager Ozzie Guillen, but expressed great admiration for him as both a player and for the job he did as White Sox manager last year. Thome also has great familiarity with the current White Sox players and even their coaches, who Thome has played against during the course of his career. Thome also plans to talk to Konerko, making a personal pitch for his return to the White Sox.

While the White Sox organization lived a dream that was 90 years in the making during the 2005 season, the previous campaign was an injury-filled nightmare for Thome. As of Monday, though, a healthy Thome has a new perspective on the final stage of his career.

"From my end, it's a dream come true," Thome said. "Watching baseball in the Chicago area as a kid, traveling up here with my father and competing against the White Sox for a long time, I always had a lot of respect for the organization and how they ran it. It's an exciting day.

"My wife is happy, and my daughter got off the plane and she's already saying, 'White Sox.' It's pretty neat and it's pretty cool."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.