So, how's it feel to be the father of a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Chuck Thome chuckles for a moment, then says, "I hope you're right. I don't care which ballot it's on." On Monday night his 40-year-old son, Jim, pretty much locked up his ticket to Cooperstown by hitting his 599th and 600th home runs, and Dad was there in Detroit to witness it. "It's indescribable," he said Tuesday. "Surreal."

So, how's it feel to be the father of a first-ballot Hall of Famer?


Chuck Thome chuckles for a moment, then says, "I hope you're right. I don't care which ballot it's on."


On Monday night his 40-year-old son, Jim, pretty much locked up his ticket to Cooperstown by hitting his 599th and 600th home runs, and Dad was there in Detroit to witness it. "It's indescribable," he said Tuesday. "Surreal."


It's probably not possible to match the feelings of a proud papa at a moment like this, but if a community could, his hometown of Peoria, Ill., no doubt would regarding Thome, who has put himself in that rarest of air - one of eight ballplayers in history to reach that milestone (and three of those don't count because they cheated through their almost certain use of steroids).


It's something his father the Caterpillar factory worker never could have imagined when Jim was a boy growing up. "If anybody told you anything like this, they would not be telling the truth," he said. "I remember when he hit his first home run in the big leagues, I told my wife, 'Wouldn't it be great if he could hit 50 home runs in his career? There's so many guys who haven't done that.' Look where he's at now."


Yet you could wipe out all the records and Jim Thome would still be a Hall of Famer in our book.


First is the way he went about his business - the old-fashioned, blue-collar work ethic, one of the few great power hitters in the modern era whose name has never been sullied by scandal. As the New York Times wrote on Tuesday in remarking on his achievement, "Thome has played the game at an extraordinary level and always, it seems, with honor. He does not need a championship ring for validation."


Second is the way he has carried himself, proving that a famous athlete and a decent human being can coexist in the same person. He signs autographs. He talks to the media with humility and without gripe, never seeking attention but often getting it anyway, serving as an unofficial spokesman for his teams. If there were on-the-field pouts when things didn't go his way, they're hard to remember. What Chuck Thome most takes away from his son's career - which included a Roberto Clemente Award in 2002 not only for his performance on the field but his community involvement off of it - is "the great comments that everybody has. ... They all say he treated them all the same. Really nice. That makes me the proudest. That always made my (late) wife proud, too."


Finally, the common refrain one reads and hears about Jim Thome is this: "He remembers where he came from." He returns home in the offseason. He maintains friendships from high school. His charitable work for the Children's Hospital of Illinois alone - and there are many others - has been extraordinary.


Chuck plans to follow his son back to Minnesota with his team, the Twins, after this road trip: "I want to hear the applause he gets in Minneapolis." For that all Dad has to do is return home, where the standing ovation is likely to last a while.


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.