COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Jim Thome was teary-eyed before he could say a single word.
That’s because his 15-year-old daughter, Lila, walked onto the stage and perfectly sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the ceremony began. He walked up to her at the end of the performance, wrapping her up in his still-massive arms for a hug.
“She sang beautifully,” Jim Thome said. “For the Hall of Fame to give her the opportunity was amazing.”
The day couldn’t start any better for Thome, whose 612 home runs — many of them prodigious — propelled him to this day. Paul Bunyan with a bat is now a Hall of Famer. The final speaker of the afternoon, Thome further cemented his status as one of the nicest men in baseball as he praised seemingly everyone who helped him along the way — and made fans of the six teams he played for feel as if he spent his entire career with their club.
“I wore six uniforms in my career,” he said, “and every time I pulled one on, I had the honor of representing a community with each its own identity.”
When he spoke of Minnesota, the team with which he hit his 600th home run, he mentioned the “endless blue skies for day games in Minneapolis.”
On Friday, Thome even attended a reception for longtime Akron Beacon-Journal reporter Sheldon Ocker, this year’s winner of the Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing. Thome said he appeared out of respect for someone who had covered him for years with the Indians.
Thome played only 179 games with the Twins, 108 in 2010 and 71 in 2011 before he was traded back to Cleveland. But he left his mark with some whopper home runs while being a popular teammate.
“The Twins organization is great, and to this day my wife and I talk about those amazing people we met while being part of those fundamentally sound Twins teams led by Ron Gardenhire, Cuddy [Michael Cuddyer], [Justin] Morneau, [Joe] Mauer and Shredder [Nick] Punto, just to name a few,” Thome said. “Those postgame celebrations were epic.”
Punto, who played with Thome with the Phillies as well, and Morneau made the trip to Cooperstown for the ceremony. Punto waved a large picture of Thome’s face on a stick during the speech.
“Obviously, what he means to me as a person and player,” said Thome, who played golf with Punto on Saturday. “Mournie, the same way.”
Fans wearing Phillies, Indians and Twins jerseys cheered frequently as Thome talked about hitting rocks in his family’s driveway in Peoria, Ill., to being a 13th-round draft pick to being enshrined in Cooperstown following a 22-year career.
“I’m so honored to be a part of something so special, something greater than the individual,” Thome said. “It’s been my great privilege to have played the game for as long as I did. In living the dream that is Major League Baseball, the best part is not the result, but taking the journey with the people whose contributions make it all possible.”