Thome on his Philly to-do list

The slugger, now back at first base, has one thing on his agenda

Updated: March 23, 2012, 1:54 PM ET
By Anna Katherine Clemmons | ESPN The Magazine

tkMatt Slocum/AP PhotoRyan Howard's injury may provide Jim Thome an opportunity to pass Sammy Sosa in the home run record books.

This story appears in the April 2, 2012 "MLB Preview Issue" of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!

The Mag: What makes this season in Philly special for you?

JT: Everyone knows the talent and the type of team this has been over the past five years. Chasing that World Series is in every player's mind, and to maybe get one more opportunity to try to win it is very, very special.

What are you most looking forward to this season?

Being in a clubhouse with winners. Lee, Halladay, Utley, Howardthese guys are some of the game's best right now.

They're also starting to get up there, like you are.

We've got talented young guys as well as veterans in their prime. But what impresses me most is that from top to bottom, everybody works. Their success doesn't surprise me.

How do you feel physically at 41 years old?

Good, but not like I did at 35! But I understand that. I work smarter now, and I don't hit in the cage as long as I used to.

For the past six years, you've been a DH; now you'll be playing first base again. How's your glove?

The biggest thing is taking ground balls to get back into a rhythm. I've been sore some days, but it's fun to be playing defense again. It's a part of the game that I've missed.

What happens when Ryan Howard finally returns?

I'm here because he's injured, but this is his team. Whenever Charlie [Manuel] puts me in, I'll be ready to go. But when I'm not playing, I can help from the bench as well.

Veteran leadership!

Well, the torch was passed down to me from some great Hall of Fame hittersguys like Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield. I used to pick their brains, and now I'm in the position to give that back to the younger guys.

What sort of advice do you give them?

Baseball is a basket: Every day you put something in it, but it takes a long time to fill. So just try to be consistent.

How much has the game changed during your career?

You still gotta stop ground balls, you gotta bat, you gotta catch. That's where baseball never changes.

Ever think about your place among the greats?

Nah, you just play the game and try not to get too high or too low. Besides, when you think you've got it figured out, you don't. I've experienced a lot of failure, but in the long run it's helped me succeed. That's what makes baseball so great.

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Anna Katherine Clemmons is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine.