Though Jim Thome played for six different teams over 22 major league seasons he has never forgotten his home.
Despite playing here, there and just about everywhere -- some spots twice -- the man who has 612 home runs remains true to his Central Illinois roots.
Never has the Peoria native’s dedication been more evident than over the past five weeks after a tornado devastated Washington, Ill., the city just across the Illinois River from Peoria.
Since the Nov. 17 storm destroyed or flattened 1,100 homes and claimed two lives in Washington, Thome has rallied his major league community to help out his home region.
Thome toured the devastation with Washington mayor Gary Manier several days after the storm. A week later, Thome, a special assistant to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, and his wife donated $100,000 to the relief. He has also since secured assistance from the White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies and Minnesota Twins.
“He does not forget where he came from,” Manier said. “(Young players) should really take a look at someone with extraordinary talent. His mom and dad raised him right and I don’t think they would be disappointed.”
It has been more than a month since Thome visited Washington and still he has trouble describing the devastation he witnessed. He feels fortunate that his brother Randy’s Washington home was spared.
But Thome knows others weren’t as lucky.
“I’ve never seen damage of a tornado,” Thome said. “I’ve never been in one, but it put everything in perspective after, obviously having it hit so close to home. Then realizing, ‘What are these families going to do, 10 days or seven days away from Thanksgiving?’ You put things in perspective as easy as, ‘Ok, I’m going to brush my teeth at night and put my toothbrush (away).’ Your toothbrush is gone. That’s the little things it puts in perspective of the damage that was done. There were cars in trees. There was just debris everywhere. It looked like the whole half of the town of Washington was leveled.”
The timing of the F4 tornado couldn’t have been worse. It arrived 10 days before Thanksgiving and at a time when rebuilding efforts are hampered by winter weather. That’s why Thome has wanted to spearhead efforts to get families in need taken care of.
“The community is coming together to show the support and put them in the right places,” Thome said. “You’re not supposed to have tornadoes of that nature in November. Next you thing you know, it’s the winter months. It’s not the building season. It’s not the time to clear the debris and they’re all working hard to accomplish that because everybody in the community cares and wants it to get by and get over with as quick as they can.”
Manier said he couldn’t say enough about Thome’s efforts to help.
As a player, Thome was a hero to his community for his mammoth home runs. But now Thome has become a different type of champion as his continued efforts have kept Washington in the spotlight at a time when it needs it most.
“There are still a lot people who are still suffering and he recognized that from Day One,” Manier said. “That type of outreach will help all of us not forget. …What he gives back to every community he plays in, let alone Central Illinois, is remarkable.”