When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, it hurt. But it hurt even more when Jim Thome, the man who claimed they would have to rip his Cleveland Indians jersey off his back to get him out of Cleveland, spurned the city for a little extra economic security in 2002.
I was only eight when Thome bolted for the Philadelphia Phillies, but he was my idol and largely the reason I fell in love with the game of baseball. It was his now bronzed stance I imitated every time I had a bat in my hand. It was his jersey my mom had to rip off my back when it was time for it to be washed. His home runs left me wide eyed; his autograph was my most valuable possession.
LeBron left to play with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, to chase championships with the Miami Hear. I was infuriated, but I understood. In high school at the time, I could see that it gave him a chance to win, to solidify his place as the best player in basketball.
I was too young to understand the motives behind Thome’s departure. I can remember my dad confirming with frustration that he was leaving Cleveland, and I later crying on our family room sofa. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe that he would do that to me, a kid who thought he was the greatest thing in the world.
Watching Thome’s statue dedication this week and hearing him say that he was signing a one-day contract to retire as a Cleveland Indian, and subsequently watching him put on his white Tribe jersey one last time, I found myself back on the same couch in my family room crying in front of the television.
People say the statue is far from deserved, that the Indians are honoring a traitor. When I traveled to Progressive Field to see the statue firsthand, I didn’t think about betrayal, nor about Philadelphia and financial security. In that statue, I saw an eight-year-old kid imitating Thome’s stance in my front yard. I saw his highlight-reel home runs. I saw 11 years of awe-inspiring play beckoning Cleveland fans to come out to the ballpark every night.
The statue is a symbol reminding Cleveland fans that, though Thome left once, now in bronze, he will never leave Cleveland again.