Frank Thomas' family looks forward to Hall of Fame ceremony

Charlie Mae Thomas doesn't get around the way she did when her son, Frank Jr., first became a Major League Baseball player 24 years ago. In those days, Thomas and her now-deceased husband, Frank Sr., traveled all over the country to see their baby boy play at far-away games.

Now, the 73-year-old Thomas is mostly confined to her Columbus home due to poor health. But that won't stop her from traveling to Cooperstown, N.Y., next week to see Frank Jr. inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Thomas said she will be there, along with her oldest daughter, a granddaughter, niece and neighborhood friend, on July 27 to witness the historic occasion.

"I'm very proud of him," said Thomas, who relies on a walker for mobility. "He always said what he was going to do, and he did it."

Thomas still lives in the home on Dunhill Drive where she raised Frank Jr. and his four siblings. The family moved there in July 1971 when Frank Jr. was only 3 years old, said Sharon Porter, a sister who moved back home with her mother after an illness. Also living at the house is the oldest sibling, Gloria Snelling, and Porter's two children. There's another sister, Mary Hushie, who lives in Columbus, and a brother, Michael Waverly, who lives in Nevada.

While they were growing up, their father worked as a bondsman and an animal catcher and drove a delivery truck for a liquor distributor. Their mother filled orders at the Fieldcrest Mill.

Snelling, who carried Frank Jr. on her hip as a baby, will be accompanying her mother to the induction. She said people are always asking if he's kin to them, and she says, "He has to be kin to somebody."

Having a famous brother is no big deal, the sisters said.

"He's just Frank Jr. to me," said Porter. "We don't need his autograph, we have him."

It was in the Boxwood neighborhood, where the family home is located, that Frank Jr. first fell in love with baseball, his family said.

Now, the family den is a shrine to Frank Jr., the walls decked with portraits, plaques and other mementos of his storied career. That part of the house was a gift from the baseball great, along with kitchen remodeling and other improvements he made to the modest dwelling over the years.

"He would've bought me another house if I wanted to move, but I chose to stay here because I knew everybody in the neighborhood and everybody knew us," Thomas said. "I didn't want to move out of here, so we just added on."

Thomas said Frank was born May 27, 1968, at what is now the Midtown Medical Center.

"My water broke about 4:30 a.m., and my husband took me straight to the hospital," she said. "I was in labor about 30 minutes and he was born at 5:25."

She said her first four children were from a previous marriage, and Frank Jr. was his father's pride and joy.

"That was Daddy's boy," she said. "They were very close and anything Frank needed, he came to his Daddy and his Daddy took care of it."

Frank Sr. died May 4, 2001, after a long battle with heart failure, and Frank Jr. came home for the funeral, the family said.

"He took it real hard," Porter said. "Matter of fact, he still hasn't come to terms with it. That's why he doesn't like to come visit too often. He said when he comes and he doesn't see him, it bothers him."

The couple also had a younger daughter, Pamela, who died from leukemia on Thanksgiving in 1977 when she was 2 years old.

"That took a toll on all of us," Porter said. "... When (Frank) went to the major leagues he charged adults a dollar for autographs and donated the money to leukemia. They used to call it the Frankie Fund but he was raising it for the kids."

After Pamela died, Frank Jr. was the youngest in the family and his siblings spoiled him.

"That was my baby," Porter said. "When he got to junior high school, there was the preppy look. My mom was saying, 'I'm not paying $50 for one pair of pants.' So me, I had a job and couldn't drive. So, I got on the bus and went all the way to Gayfers and got what he wanted."

The siblings also bought him shoes for his growing feet, took him to get his driver's license and chipped in when he got his first apartment and needed a deposit and rent money.

As he grew to his 6-foot-5 frame, he just kept playing ball and eating. He was so big, Snelling said, that he was wearing a size 14 shoe at 14 years old.

She said there use to be a fish bowl at the house where Frank Sr. put baseballs with the dates of all his son's home runs.

As Frank Jr. became famous, he splurged on his family, they said.

His parents used to visit him in Chicago every summer and he would take them on shopping sprees.

One year, he had a Mercedes-Benz delivered to his father on a flatbed truck. Another time, he closed down the local Toys R Us so his nieces and nephews could shop.

On Snelling's 50th birthday, he paid for her and Hushie to go to Las Vegas.

The family last saw Frank Jr. last Christmas when he was home for his uncle's funeral, and Charlie Mae Thomas said he calls her at least once every two weeks, and sometimes weekly. For next week's trip to Cooperstown, she said Frank Jr. is renting a luxury van for her, Snelling and a lifelong friend, Darryl Huling, to travel to the induction.

His niece, Felicia Hicks, now 34, said she's taking her children and hopes he'll be an inspiration to her 11-year-old son.

"Uncle Frank is a legend," she said. "He's a positive influence for my son to just keep focused on school and athletic activities. You never know where it will take him in life."