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The Big Heart

It is late at night, and having been away all day, I just watched a large man, a sports hero, a Chicago icon, display a slice of humanity that we see all too seldom from those who claim celebrity and adulation. Frank Thomas's emotional Hall of Fame induction speech won't soon be forgotten.

The other five inductees offered their thank yous, citing specific people, seasons and games in a controlled, straightforward manner. Thomas stated the obvious, "I'm an emotional guy. I wear my emotions on my sleeve."

Within a minute of addressing the thousands who came to Cooperstown, the tears came in waves as Thomas talked about growing up in Columbus, Georgia, one of five children of Frank and Charlie Mae Thomas.

His dad, who died in 2001, was a bail bondsman, while his mother worked in the textile industry. Judging from the pictures of the Thomas family home, the Thomases were typical of many middle-American families.

"We didn't have much," Thomas said, "but my parents worked tirelessly for me and my four siblings. I would like to thank my parents for working so hard to instill core values to make the best of life."

Frank Thomas knows from whence he came, an African American from a town of just under 200,000 about 100 miles west of Atlanta on the Georgia-Alabama border.

Comcast Sports Net did an hour-long feature, "Welcome to Cooperstown," on the eve of Thomas' induction, giving the Big Hurt an opportunity to talk about his childhood and the people who influenced him. "It [Columbus] made me who I am as a person," Thomas said.

Bobby Howard was his high school baseball coach, a position he's held since 1984 at Columbus High School. Listening to Howard, you don't miss the fact that he not only knew Thomas as an individual, but he had a relationship with the entire family.

"I was a little lazy back then, and Bobby made sure no one was lazy on his team," Thomas said. "Thank God for Bobby Howard 'cause he really taught me about commitment."

Howard was in Cooperstown on Sunday, and, of course, the Big Hurt mentioned him along with people like Pat Dye, his football coach at Auburn.

What stands out from Thomas's testimonials is that the people who lead, mentor, teach or coach kids have such an opportunity to make a positive impression on our young people. It is an awesome responsibility, but one which reaps incredible rewards.

Put yourself in Bobby Howard's shoes as he sat in the crowd in Cooperstown, listening to one of his kids who reached unimaginable heights. One could argue that Frank Thomas never would have been delivering that speech if Howard hadn't instilled in him a work ethic, respect for his teammates, and a love and knowledge of the game that Thomas learned as a teenager.

Comcast's tribute to Thomas also pointed out that he played football and basketball in addition to baseball at Columbus High. At a time when promising young athletes drop sports where they have ability and find enjoyment in order to specialize in just one sport, Thomas is a prime example of a kid who simply liked to compete in whatever season it happened to be. The big league scouts shied away from drafting him out of high school in 1986 because they thought he was a football player who happened to also play baseball. You think they might have asked him if he wanted to make baseball his career?

"Not getting drafted out of high school was the worst moment of my life," Thomas said.

After playing two football seasons at Auburn, he dropped the sport to concentrate on baseball. He obviously was a force on the college diamond - consider for a moment Frank Thomas swinging an aluminum bat - before the Sox picked him at No. 7 in the 1989 draft following his junior year of college.

Addressing his older brother Michael on Sunday, Thomas said, "You always had advice for me, some good, some bad. But thanks for always being honest."

I couldn't help but think about another Chicago superstar, Derrick Rose, and the advice he has received from his older brother and other advisers. Like Thomas, Rose is a tireless worker, committed to improving his skills despite the debilitating injuries he has endured. Yet unlike Thomas, Derrick has been susceptible to some poor advice and counsel over the years, going back to high school and his admission to college. All of which brings us back to the responsibility adults have in the lives of these gifted athletes.

Now that Frank Thomas at age 46 is in the position where his words and actions have the ability to influence the younger generation, he closed out his induction speech with a message to those who will follow him.

"To all you kids out there," he concluded, "just remember one thing from today. There are no shortcuts to success. Hard work, dedication, commitment, stay true to who you are."

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Transcript, video.

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Of course, while much of the focus for the White Sox family was centered on Cooperstown over the weekend, Robin Ventura, Thomas's teammate for nine years on the South Side, was trying to guide his charges to a four-game sweep in Minneapolis, something the White Sox have never done.

And, wow, did they come close, dropping a 4-3 nail-biter on Sunday after leaving the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning.

Trying to protect a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh after starter Scott Carroll had to depart due to a blister on his right hand, reliever Ronald Belisario came completely undone when home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg questioned the amount of rosin on Belisario's right forearm.

Belisario was forced to clean up his act, removing what looked to be a rubber band from his wrist and rearranging the compression sleeve that pitchers often wear. It wasn't clear whether Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pointed out this wardrobe malfunction, but Gardy is a master of gamesmanship, so his involvement remains a legitimate question.

The upshot is that poor Belisario became totally unhinged, yielding a hit sandwiched by two walks with a wild pitch sprinkled into the mix. Javy Guerra replaced the disrespected Belisario, getting Eduardo Escobar to pop out before Danny Salazar tied the game with a sacrifice fly. He had two strikes on ex-Cub Sam Fuld before the little guy hit a rope to center, driving in the game's deciding two runs.

Prior to Sunday, the Sox had a dandy time in the Twin Cities, winning three games including a 7-0 blanking of the Twins on Saturday behind eight innings from the sensational Chris Sale, who now is 10-1 with an ERA of 1.88. It is a joy to watch the command that Sale has over the unlucky opponent.

Even though Kansas City beat the Sox two-of-three at The Cell earlier in the week, Tuesday's 7-1 loss was the only game where the Sox looked disinterested and non-competitive all week.

After an off-day today, the Sox take on the division-leading Tigers three games before returning home for a weekend set again with the Twins. So it's the best and worst of the Central Division this week.

Our guys shouldn't require any incentive or encouragement, but if they do, they need to look no further than the Big Hurt's speech from Cooperstown.

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Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.

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