Budding Friendship Shows Thome's Character

Jim Thome has brought a lot of offense to the Phillies. He has also brought a presence to the club that is rare in today's game. The fact that Thome spends a good amount of time being a daily friend and mentor to young Ryan Howard shows the true character of a player who is quickly becoming one of the more popular players in Philadelphia sports history.

He had a minor league season that every hitter ever drafted dreams about. He is now a two-time winner of the Phillies coveted Paul Owens Award. He has everything except a spot to play with the major league club. He is Ryan Howard and he's learning from the best.

As for Jim Thome, his days of having to prove himself are long gone. Still though, he remembers how tough they can be. He remembers the feelings and thoughts that can creep into a young player's mind as he works his way to the majors.

Those memories are strong enough that Thome has taken Ryan Howard under his wing, somewhat. It's not uncommon to see the two hanging out together in the clubhouse, in the dugout, on the field. It's Thome who has helped Howard to learn more about the pitchers he'll be facing and how they may approach him. Thome's character would have it no other way.

The Phillies probably didn't know the depth of the man that they were getting when they signed Thome to a lucrative and long contract prior to the 2003 season. They knew he was good in the clubhouse and that he would be a good fit both behind the scenes and between the lines. Truly knowing how much of an impact Thome could have on the team, young players and in fact, on the city, couldn't have possibly have been known.

Even for all of his ability and potential, a helping hand from someone like Jim Thome means a lot to a player like Ryan Howard. He's confident enough in his skills and has a good head on his shoulders, but to have Thome show him the ropes is an amazing opportunity for the young Howard. The Phillies definitely did the right thing in bringing Howard to the majors for the final month of the season.

While baseball is a game of numbers, you can't always predict a player's major league impact looking solely at what he did in the minors. If that were the case, then Howard would be considered a much better player than Thome ever was. After all, the most homeruns that Thome ever hit in a minor league season was 25 when he played at AAA Charlotte in 1993. That was his last stint in the minors and he added another seven homeruns to his total when he played in 47 games late in the season for Cleveland.

While Howard may have better numbers than Thome put up, the two are amazingly similar, but they also have somewhat different approaches at times. Both have the obvious comparisons of position and the fact that they are both left-handed hitters. While Thome is more of a dead pull hitter, Howard is more able to use the whole field and has drawn comparisons to Mo Vaughn for his ability to hit the ball to left field. Those differences are as important as the similarities as Thome and Howard work together. Howard will be able to learn a lot about not just the pitchers that he'll be facing, but how to approach at bats.

Another thing that the two share is a cool confidence. It's a confidence that is unassuming and goes nowhere near the level of arrogance. Instead, it's a confidence that is at its best when it is simply shown at the plate and on the field. Neither player speaks in boisterous tones. Neither player adopts a "me first" attitude. Both are players who simply run onto the field and do what comes naturally, preferring to simply let their talents speak for themselves.

Whether Thome and Howard will have an opportunity to build their friendship as teammates in Philadelphia remains to be seen. There is a good chance that Howard will be sent elsewhere over the winter, blocked at his position by his new-found friend. Still, the fact that Thome has taken an interest in the young player speaks volumes to just how much of an impact he can have with this organization. It's all part of that rare presence that Thome carries with him.

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