Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Frank Thomas ready to thank those who helped him

Just like numbers, words are important.

Ask Frank Thomas.

He has the numbers -- two American League Most Valuable Player awards, 521 career big league home runs and a .301 lifetime batting average -- to earn Major League Baseball's highest honor.

The kid who started playing on Wilkinson Field inside Columbus' Lakebottom Park will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y.

And now a 19-year Major League career and a lifetime of achievement for the 46-year-old Thomas will come down to a 10-minute speech -- more or less.

That is more pressure than turning around a 98-mile-per-hour fastball.

"I took my time on it," said Thomas, now a studio analyst for Fox Sports. "I am doing a lot of TV stuff and found myself in a hotel a lot the last three or so months."

In those hotel rooms, Thomas wrote it from the heart, and he wants to make sure he thanks the people who helped him along this journey to greatness.

"Each night I would take a look at it, add a few lines about all of my teammates, friends and coaches and disciplinarians along the way." he said Saturday as he met the national media prior to his induction. " It is from the heart and to thank the people who really helped me to get here."

About 100 of his friends, family and former teammates and coaches are here. His high school coach, Columbus High's Bobby Howard, has made the road trip from Georgia to see Thomas enshrined.

So is his mother, Charlie Mae Thomas, who is in failing health and still resides in the Boxwood home Frank Jr. was raised in.

"My mom is here and she is not that mobile," Thomas said. "Getting her out of the house for the first time in a long time is kind of scary, too. She's here and she's happy."

She ought to be.

Her baby boy is a big deal -- heck, he's the Big Hurt. And, he will have a bronze bust of his likeness alongside Mays, Mantle, Ruth, Aaron and Jackie Robinson to name just very few.

And if you had seen all the folks walking around Cooperstown with No. 35 Chicago White Sox jerseys on Saturday, you would understand just how big a deal this is.

"This feels bigger than any ball game I have ever been to," Thomas said of the Hall of Fame weekend where he's the guest of honor along with former Braves Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Bobby Cox and managers Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre.

One person who is not here is Frank Thomas Sr. Big Frank, as he was known long before his son got the nickname while playing at Auburn, died of heart disease in 2001.

"My dad was the man," Thomas said Saturday. "He pushed me like no other. Without him, I definitely doubt I would be here today. He would make me get off that couch and go to practice. He would push, push, push. He saw something early that I didn't see."

They were best friends and confidants.

"I think about my dad all the time," Thomas said. "I think about the smile he would have on his face if he was here. He was a very proud man. And he was proud of his son. And you know this is the pinnacle."

It is and Thomas wishes his father was one of those people walking Main Street in Cooperstown with a No. 35 jersey.

"He would be running around here with No. 35 on his back, probably saying my son is going into the Hall of Fame," Thomas said. "That is the type of father I had and he deserved that."

Yes, he did.

Saturday, Thomas also remembered his Auburn University heritage, both in football and baseball. After finishing a 30-minute news conference, he was given a half dozen Auburn caps by representatives of the university's athletic department. He promptly put one on.

"War Damn Eagle," he said. "You might hear that tomorrow."

The Hall of Fame has put a 10-minute limit on the speeches.

"I am a little long," said the man who made a career of going deep. "It is hard to write the finale in 10 minutes. There are so many people out there and the first draft was about 20 minutes."

So, he has it down to about 14 minutes.

"The Hall of Fame has said it is a solid speech, and they don't want me to leave anything out of it," Thomas said.

Solid.

You would expect nothing less from a man who has been solid throughout his career.

"I want to say thank you to everybody," he said. "I did not get here by myself."

Chuck Williams, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com

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