More than three months after he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Frank Thomas Jr. was at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center Thursday to sign baseballs and serve as guest speaker for the New Horizons Behavioral Health 13th annual benefit event.
“It’s always nice to come down to Columbus when I can,” Thomas said of his hometown. “There are changes so much, but there is nothing like home.”
At age 46, Thomas said he’s proud to be the youngest man in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility as a member of the Chicago White Sox. “If you dream, it’s possible it can happen to you,” he said.
As friends and former coaches filed into the Foundry Room, Thomas reflected on the journey that led him from Columbus High School and Auburn University to the big leagues as a baseball player. At Columbus High, he batted cleanup on the championship baseball team, was a tight end on the football team and played forward on the basketball team.
He went to Auburn University on a football scholarship but was drawn to the baseball team.
“All my speeches are about hard work and dedication,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t the blue-chip, five-star guy. I was a football player playing baseball, and ‘he’s too big for the sport.’ I had to prove a lot of people wrong. It took a lot of hard work to rough out those edges and make it to the major league.”
Looking back, Thomas said he’s glad he played two sports football and baseball in college. The challenge kept him focused, he said. “No hanging out, no going to parties,” he said. “It was rough, but I’m glad I chose to play two sports in college.”
During his big league career, Thomas batted .301, had 2,468 hits and blasted 521 home runs. He was nicknamed “The Big Hurt” as a feared slugger.
Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 27. His mother was at the event, but his father and biggest coach, Frank Thomas Sr., passed away years before.
“I think it got the best of me because this was the last hurrah,” he said. “Mother was sitting on the second row right there. It just broke me down ’cause I knew how excited he would have been.”
After his induction, Thomas was given a chance to serve as a studio analyst for Fox Sports. “I’m having a lot of fun on national TV,” he said.
Thomas also said he’s happy that Tim Hudson, a big league pitcher from the area, is now a world champion with the San Francisco Giants, which recently defeated the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. “I thought they would fall short,” he said. “That Kansas City bullpen was so devastating. I’ve never seen anything like it. The Giants are champions.”
Thomas also had a chance to see his high school baseball coach Bobby Howard, who last saw him at Cooperstown.
“It is just nice to be reconnected to him,” Howard said. “He’s just been so great to me and my family. We are really proud of him.”