Jim Thome-The Road to 600 Home Runs

During my travels to Target Field to cover the Rangers/Twins series last weekend, I had the opportunity to photograph one of baseball’s premier sluggers, Minnesota Twins designated hitter Jim Thome, as he makes his way toward the exclusive 600 home run club.  I had the pleasure of covering Jim regularly from 2006 through 2009 when he was with the Chicago White Sox, and quickly gained appreciation and respect for the commitment he put in on an everyday basis to make himself one of most dangerous long ball hitters of his era.

CLEVELAND - 1995:  Jim Thome #25 of the Cleveland Indians bats during an MLB game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio.  Thome played for the Indians from 1991-2002.  (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Jim Thome follows through in classic style during the 1995 season.

Jim came up with the Cleveland Indians in late 1991, and a few years later helped the Tribe become a perennial pennant contender.  They reached the playoffs for five consecutive seasons from 1995-1999, highlighted by World Series appearances in 1995 and 1997.

CLEVELAND - 1995:  Jim Thome #25 of the Cleveland Indians looks on during an MLB game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio.  Thome played for the Indians from 1991-2002.  (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Thome, Albert Belle, Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez, along with a pitching staff anchored by Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser made up the nucleus of those powerful Indians teams from the 1990’s.

CLEVELAND - 1995:  Jim Thome #25 greets Albert Belle #8 of the Cleveland Indians after Belle hit a home run in an MLB game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio.  Thome played for the Indians from 1991-2002.  Belle played for the Indians from 1989-1996.  (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Thome started his march toward 600 in earnest during the strike shortened 1994 season when he hit 20 dingers.  After clubbing 25 round-trippers in 1995, he then put together a string of 9 consecutive seasons where he hit 30 or more, posting a career best 52 in 2002.

OAKLAND - 1995:  Jim Thome #25 of the Cleveland Indians fields during an MLB game against the Oakland Athletics at he Oakland-Alameda County Colosseum.  Thome played for the Indians from 1991-2002.  (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Originally a third baseman, Thome shifted over to first base when the Indians acquired Matt Williams back in 1997.  After joining the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent and enjoying 40 plus home run seasons in 2003 and 2004, Thome endured through an injury shortened season in 2005 and during the off-season was traded to the White Sox.  Thome enjoyed a career rebirth as the White Sox everyday designated hitter in 2006 earning American League comeback player of the year honors, hitting 42 home runs.

CHICAGO - JULY 8:  Jim Thome #25 of the Chicago White Sox bats during the game against the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois on July 8, 2007.  The White Sox defeated the Twins 6-3.  (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos ) (Ron Vesely)

Jim takes his signature batting stance during a 2007 game.

Big Jim made baseball history when he became the only major league player to hit his 500th career home run in walk-off fashion, doing so on September 16, 2007 versus the Anaheim Angels.  Appropriately enough, it was on Jim Thome bobblehead day.

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 16:  Jim Thome #25 of the Chicago White Sox hits his 500th career home run, a walk off home run winning the game, off of Dustin Moseley #58 during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 16, 2007.  The White Sox defeated the Angels 9-7.  (Photo Credit Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Jim Thome reacts after hitting his 500th career home run, a walk-off home run to defeat the Anaheim Angels on September 16, 2007.

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 16:  Teamates mob Jim Thome #25 of the Chicago White Sox after hitting his 500th career home run, a walk off home run winning the game, off of Dustin Moseley #58 during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 16, 2007.  The White Sox defeated the Angels 9-7.  (Photo Credit Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Jim Thome is mobbed by teammates after hitting his 500th career home run, a walk-off home run to defeat the Anaheim Angels on September 16, 2007.

Always the clutch hitter, he came through again when he hit a mammoth solo home run against the Minnesota Twins and Nick Blackburn to lead the White Sox to a 1-0, American League Central Division tie-breaker game division clinching victory.

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 30:  Jim Thome #25 of the Chicago White Sox connects for a solo, game and A.L. Central Division winning home run of Nick Blackburn in the 7th inning of the game against the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 30, 2008.  The White Sox defeated the Twins 1-0 to win the American League Central title.  The Sox and Twins had to play a one game playoff to determine the American League Central Champion.  (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Jim Thome of the Chicago White Sox connects for a solo, game and A.L. Central Division winning home run off of Nick Blackburn in the 7th inning during game 163 against the Minnesota Twins on September 30, 2008.

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 30:  Jim Thome #25 of the Chicago White Sox celebrates with the fans after the game against the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 30, 2008.  The White Sox defeated the Twins 1-0 to win the American League Central title.  Thome hit a solo home run for the only run of the game.  The Sox and Twins had to play a one game playoff to determine the American League Central Champion.  (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Jim Thome celebrates with White Sox fans after the White Sox won the American League Central Division title on September 30, 2008.

From what I witnessed last weekend, it doesn’t look like Jim has lost any of his power or knack for coming through in the clutch as he connected for career home runs #583 and #584 and drove in four runs to help lead the Twins to a three game sweep of the AL West leading Texas Rangers.

MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 04:  Jim Thome #25 of the Minnesota Twins hits his second home run of the game in the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers on September 4, 2010 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Twins defeated the Rangers 12-4. (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Jim Thome of the Minnesota Twins hits his second home run of the game and 584th of his career, moving him into 9th place all-time past Mark McGwire, in the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers on September 4, 2010.

MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 04:  Jim Thome #25 is greeted by Michael Cuddyer #5 of the Minnesota Twins after Thome hit his second home run of the game in the fourth inning against the Texas Rangers on September 4, 2010 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Twins defeated the Rangers 12-4.  (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Michael Cuddyer and Orlando Hudson greet Jim Thome at home plate after Thome hit his 584th career home run September 4, 2010 against the Texas Rangers.

Home run #584 moved him past Mark McGwire into 9th place on the all-time home run list.  Even as I write this, Thome has moved into a tie for 8th place all-time with Frank Robinson.

Baseball fans, make plans to attend a Twins game and take a few moments to watch one of the legends of this era take a few swings. Along with Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome is unquestionably one of the greatest sluggers of recent time.

CHICAGO - AUGUST 23:  Jim Thome #25 and Ken Griffey Jr. #17 of the Chicago White Sox pose together for a portrait prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois on August 23, 2008.  With 1152 home runs hit between the them in the major leagues, it was a rare opportunity to photograph two players on the same team with that many home runs between them.  (Photo by Ron Vesely) (Ron Vesely)

Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr. pose for a photo prior to the White Sox game on August 23, 2008. On that date, they had hit a combined 1152 home runs between themselves.

With the exception of Albert Pujols, it will be quite some time before the next group of home run hitters approach the rarefied air of 500 home runs, much less 600.  As a baseball fan, you owe it to yourself to take in a little history in the making.  Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve missed until it’s gone.  Don’t miss this opportunity.

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