LISLE, Ill. -- On Sunday morning at the Bulls/Sox Academy some 40 minutes outside of Chicago, Jim Thome was another instructor at a hitting clinic for 61 boys and girls between the ages of 7-14.
Of course, with Hall of Fame numbers to his credit -- such as 612 homers, 1,699 RBIs, 1,583 runs scored and a .402 on-base percentage -- Thome's resume was just a bit deeper than the other highly competent instructors on hand.
But there was the 43-year-old Thome, moving from cage to cage and studying each young player in action. Thome would stop to pat a kid on the back as he or she finished a session, and he often pointed out aspects of the respective swing that impressed him or subtleties that could use tweaking.
It's difficult to imagine a better person than Thome to support the White Sox name throughout the local communities. As the special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn since last July, Thome embraces such a role.
"Rick and our organization, [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] and [executive vice president] Kenny [Williams], they're all doing a fine job of getting our organization back to the level that everybody knows it will get to," Thome said during a brief break from the clinic. "They've got the right people in place, and we've got some really good young players coming up and it's exciting.
"Now it's up to them to go out and work hard and get it accomplished on their own, but it's a fun time to be a part of White Sox baseball. To get out in the community and promote that, it's a no-brainer. I have a youngster at home who wants to hit balls in our house every day, so this is easy for me. It's great. It's fun to give back, having ex-players that played for the White Sox get back in the community and having people think about White Sox baseball. I think it's an exciting time."
Not only did Thome stand as an affable teacher for these potential future on-field stars, but his five All-Star appearances and .554 career slugging percentage also indicate he knows a thing or five about hitting. Thome was asked Sunday if a hitter can be taught to be patient, a trait with which the left-handed slugger has great familiarity after drawing 1,747 walks. His response closely resembled the theory espoused by new White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson, in that selective aggressiveness is the way to go -- with aggressiveness being the key word.
"I don't think you can just hand-pick guys and say, 'OK, we want you to be patient,'" Thome said. "The reason you become patient is, in my case, I was aggressive, and there were situations I got pitched around and I knew they were pitching around me. It made it look like, 'Oh, you are taking a lot of pitches,' but as we talked in here, getting your foundation at the plate, getting ready from that point on, and then what it did for me by thinking to become dangerous at the plate, it helped me be patient, if that makes sense.
"You can't necessarily take a guy that hits the ball the opposite way as a speed guy and say become patient, when his first two pitches might be the best for him to put in play. There's such a fine line. Look at Frank [Thomas'] career. Frank probably became patient because he was a dangerous hitter that they pitched around.
"That's called, 'I'm hitting, I'm hitting, I'm hitting, and then it's a ball,'" Thome said. "I'm not, 'I'm taking, I'm taking, and then OK, there's a strike that I could have hit.' You want to look to hit, but also the experience and the time of just playing will either make you be patient or become a really good hitter or not be patient."
An autograph session followed Sunday's clinic, and then Thome took some questions from the participants. Those inquiries ranged from the toughest pitcher he faced (Randy Johnson) to his favorite player to watch growing up (Dave Kingman) to why he wore jersey No. 25 (for his grandfather, who he saw wearing No. 25 in a picture). One question asked of Thome by a reporter centered on any sort of traps young kids fall into as they try to improve.
Thome's answer stressed the right frame of mind, and his continued explanation made it easy to understand how important a person such as Thome is to the game.
"Let's face it: Frame of mind is good at all levels, even at our level in the big leagues," Thome said. "You have to have the frame of mind every day that you are not going to do well every day, but I'm going to prepare. I'm going to do everything I can, and over the long haul, this long haul process that we go through, the positives will come out if you put the work in and put the time in and your ability takes over.
"For the kids, it's important for them to understand the joy of the game and how much it means to wake up and put a uniform on and truly, truly love the game, and that's what as an ex-big leaguer and [Bulls/Sox Academy vice president of sports] Mike [Huff] is the same way. He does a fine job. Push them out there, but let them have fun. Forget what you did. Let's teach you, but help you have fun at the game."