"Andrea asked a few months back, going back to August," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who joined Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in support of their friend and Saturday's host, Jim Thome. "With this being the 15th year, she wanted to bring out guys, ex-teammates or coaches or managers, to go up there and take part in it for the event.
"But Andrea also wanted it as a little mini-tribute to Jim, to come out here and speak on what kind of guy he is. It didn't take her to ask twice."
Both Konerko and Manuel had that chance to speak about Thome, the man and the player, and then all three took part during the entertaining crosstalk portion of this program that filled the Civic Center Ballroom. The White Sox, as an organization, also received a special award for their contributions and support over the past four years and their continued dedication to this event.
Although Thome is no longer with the Sox, the team served as the evening's premier sponsor. Christine O'Reilly, the White Sox senior director of community relations, accepted the award for the organization. And judging from the story she told on the dais about a recent conversation with Chicago chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, it sounds as if the White Sox devotion to this event won't change.
"It was during the postseason and those of you who know me, know I spent quite a bit of time in Jerry's office talking about Jim," O'Reilly said. "I was telling him about this Benefit, and he said, 'You will be there again.'
"Jerry said, 'I want to tell you right here and now, that whatever Jim does, however long he does it and wherever he is, the White Sox will support him.' We honor someone in Jim who has an illustrious and amazing career but has shunned the spotlight for himself and pointed it in the direction with others in need."
This event remains a true tribute to Joyce Thome, Jim's mother who lost her battle with lung cancer in January 2005. She was the driving force behind the inception of the charitable endeavor with her son, an idea that has grown to more than 700 people attending at the Civic Center on Saturday.
Jim and Andrea, along with the entire Thome family, have helped develop the Benefit into a program that has raised over $2 million throughout the years. The people of Peoria continue to respond to their favorite son.
"Let's face it. In a hard economy, people still come and support an event like this," Thome said. "It's humbling for me. That's why I want to come back and be a part of it. I like to come back to Peoria and show my face and let people know that I do admire and still love the city of Peoria, even though we don't live here. You can't do something like this alone."
"I can tell you this is a first-class operation," Konerko said. "Jim is not one who is going to tell everyone about all the good stuff he does. It is the 15th year, so it's not something that happened overnight."
Appearances by Konerko and Manuel were supposed to be a surprise for the evening's host. Thome finding out about their contributions, though, didn't make the evening any less inspiring, culminating with a $20,000 winning bid on a mystery trip to Paris and Prague presented by the Thomes as the 14th and final item of the live auction.
"There are not too many things that will get past me, put it that way," said Thome with a wry smile of finding out about the Konerko-Manuel surprise beforehand. "For them to take the time and come in like this, it's humbling. It means a lot.
"You play with guys and it's a really cool situation. It tears you up a little bit when I found out they were coming. It was a neat thing."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less