BY DAVE PEDERSEN
Former Minnesota Twin Jim Thome visited Rockford Tuesday, Sept. 24, to see the park that bears his name.
Jim Thome Park in the Parkwood Development is home to Bankwest/Lamperts Field, the new home of Rockford Youth Baseball.
“It is not often you get a professional baseball player with more than 600 home runs and is a future hall of famer to drop in to visit a field in a city like Rockford,” said Chris Hudlow, assistant baseball director for the Rockford Area Athletic Association.
Thome was met by more than 50 youth baseball players from the Rockford area, who learned they would be bused to the field the night before.
“He told them he was so honored to have such a beautiful park named after him and was in awe of the baseball field,” said Hudlow about Thome’s reaction.
Thome answered questions about who was his favorite manager (Charlie Manuel) and teammate (Nick Punto). He gave great insight to the players, explaining he wasn’t the best player on his school team and he worked hard to get to the major leagues. He also explained how he dealt with being nervous during big at-bats in big games.
“Jim Thome epitomizes what we are trying to do with Rockford baseball: Be honest, humble and hardworking,” said Steve Yakesh, RAAA baseball director. “We could not have dreamed of a better role model and we are honored to have him as part of Rockford baseball.”
Yakesh and Hudlow presented Thome with his own Rockford Rockets No. 25 baseball jersey and hat. Hudlow said Thome was excited and surprised by the gift and proudly wore it for pictures including his trademark batting stance.
“Thome did say, ‘You haven’t seen the last of me’ and he looks forward to bringing his entire family, including his 5-year-old son, to Rockford’s Jim Thome Park,” added Hudlow. “It was a great day for not only Rockford baseball, but for the city of Rockford as well. We look forward to Thome’s next visit.”
In May 2012 the Minnesota Twins approached the RAAA about naming the youth baseball field they were constructing after Thome because of what he meant to the Twins and Minnesota in the two years he was with the team. He contributed to the Twins Community Fund, which in turn donated $10,000 to help build the Rockford field, where games were scheduled every night from early May to late June.
With naming rights already agreed to with Bankwest and Lamperts, Yakesh and Hudlow worked with the city of Rockford to rename Parkwood Park, Jim Thome Park.
The field is a baseball only field for ages 9 through 12 with a grass infield and raised mound. The baseball field opened May 11. Hudlow hopes the new field will help get other youth excited about playing baseball.
Hudlow said the goal is to add a scoreboard, flag poles and trees in center field and a cover for the bleachers behind home plate for the fans.
To watch the video of Jim Thome’s Q&A with Rockford players, go to www.rockfordball.com.
Jim Thome showed off his famous batting stance when the former Minnesota Twin visited Rockford last week. (Submitted photo)