Former White Sox power-hitter Jim Thome thrilled a group of suburban youngsters Sunday when he led a three-hour hitting clinic at the Bulls/White Sox Academy in Lisle.
Thome talked to the young ballplayers, who ranged in age from 7 to 14, about the mental and physical aspects of hitting -- how to stand at the plate, how to stride into a swing, how to approach each at-bat with the proper mindset.
Parents interviewed at the clinic said they were delighted to see their children coached by a five-time major-league all-star who hit 612 home runs in his career.
"This is like an early Christmas present," said Kurt Rimmele of Peru, whose 11-year-old son, Eric, participated in the clinic. "(Thome) happens to be my son's favorite player. My son is left-handed, he wears the high socks, the whole thing. So he couldn't have asked for a better instructor."
"What a tremendous opportunity," said David Giardina of Oak Park as he watched his 13-year-old son, Adam, take swings. "Thome seems like such a classy guy."
The clinic participants were divided into small groups of four or five, and they practiced proper hitting technique inside the academy's indoor batting cages. Thome moved from cage to cage, observing the young hitters and offering suggestions. In between the cage sessions, participants gathered in the middle of the room and discussed what they learned with Thome and the academy's other hitting instructors.
Thome said he loves getting out and talking to young ballplayers.
"This is great," he said. "It's fun to give back."
Thome said that when coaching young hitters, he likes to stress the importance of "a good frame of mind" at the plate. He talks about the need for preparation, for taking a long view and not getting upset about one bad swing or one bad at-bat.
"I also like to talk about the joy of the game, about what it means to wake up one day and be able to put on a uniform and play," he said.
Thome played with the White Sox from 2006 to 2009, and works now as a special assistant to White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn. He said he's excited about what's happening on the South Side, with the addition of several aggressive young players and the retention of longtime slugger and team leader Paul Konerko.
For the young fans who learned from Thome on Sunday, the coming year is already off to a good start.
"I'm pretty sure this will go down as Best Morning Ever in my house," said Amanda Poreda of Addison, whose 11-year-old daughter, Elexa, participated in the clinic.