by Scott King
Former White Sox first baseman and designated hitter Frank Thomas was all smiles as he sat behind an autograph table on Guaranteed Rate Field Wednesday before the Guaranteed Rate Foundation’s home run derby.
“This is my life,” the 2014 Hall of Fame inductee said. “I was here when this ballpark was built. So I got to be here when it was first here, hit the first home run in this ballpark. Basically, it’s home and it brings back a lot of great memories.”
Appropriately dubbed “The Big Hurt” for the way he used to punish unsuspecting baseballs, Thomas was on hand to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the 60 contestants and their guests before things kicked off.
15 teams of four competed in the derby and it cost $5,000 to buy a team for the event. The Guaranteed Rate Foundation, founded in 2012, has granted more than $3 million to over 300 individuals.
Relief is given to recipients who have been affected by domestic violence, homelessness, medical emergencies, natural disasters and the unexpected loss of loved ones. 100 percent of all overhead expenses are covered by Guaranteed Rate, meaning every cent goes to someone in need.
“It’s great to be involved with Guaranteed Rate,” Thomas said. “This is a first class company, they brought me in as an endorser, this is my second year. This is the first annual Home Run Derby.
“I’ve been in a lot of home run derbies, I won one in 1995. This is about giving back to charity. I’ve always been about charity throughout my whole entire career. It’s great to get teams together and guys want to raise money for charity and help others.”
A few ringers managed to clear the wall in fair territory for a good cause, but they paled in comparison to one of the greatest White Sox sluggers of all time, who finished his MLB career with 521 home runs and a .301 batting average.
“I grew up wanting to be a hitter, an all-around hitter, not just a home run hitter,” Thomas said. “Average was the biggest thing for me every year. I always wanted to hit .330, .340, probably would have if I hadn’t went to DH because that changed everything for you when you’re just pinch-hitting four, five times a night.
“But as an every day first baseman I had a lot of home runs and hit close to .330 as a first baseman. So I love to hit, home runs come, great swing, great mechanics and I was able to be consistent with that because I cared a lot about it and spent a lot of time working on my craft.”
A few players on the current White Sox roster have caught “Big Frank”‘s attention.
“I’m watching Tim Anderson, I’m watching Yoan Moncada, you know Jose Abreu is a professional, professional,” Thomas said. “These guys got something special. Eloy Jimenez is coming around, he’s going to be one of the best power hitters in all of baseball, so for me watching these guys mature and grow up the next three, four years is going to be something special.”
Former Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios participated in the derby. He didn’t clear the fence, but had some solid cuts.
“I got a little health issue, I should be on the IR,” Chelios joked. “But I played in Evergreen Park, played pretty well, but nothing to this extent.”
The hockey Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup champion goes back with Frank and was at the event to support him.
“Our kids played baseball together in Oak Brook growing up when I was playing here and he was playing here. So we’ve known each other since ’91 or ’92. It’s great to see him, he’s always been a great guy, great teammate [for] the White Sox organization. Just a real likable guy.”