Paralyzed mother gives Thames perspective

Thursday, June 26, 2008

DETROIT -- Anytime Marcus Thames starts to get cranky about being a part-time player, he simply thinks about his mom.

Thames was 5 when his mother, Veterine Thames, was in a car accident that left her paralyzed.

For 26 years, that's left the Detroit Tigers outfielder with an even-keeled perspective about his place in the game.

"She can't even get herself a glass of water," Thames said. "I can get up, walk around and drive myself to the ballpark, so why would I get frustrated and get down on myself?"

Little frustrates Thames now.

He'd hit seven home runs in his last 10 games going into Wednesday night, doubling his previous total to give him 14 this season. Helped by his bat, the Tigers keep moving up in the AL Central after a bad start.

"I've had a chance to play with some pretty special people and I don't think I've ever seen anybody be quite that hot for an extended period of time the way Marcus has been," teammate Todd Jones said this week before the Tigers opened a series against the St. Louis Cardinals. "It's just been remarkable."

Thames boils it down to getting more swings. He was hitting .263 with 31 RBIs in 133 at-bats through mid-week.

"I'm not going to say I'm going to hit a home run every day," he said. "But I'll put some good swings on some balls and good things will happen."

Thames insisted he knew, eventually, he would get his chance. It's mostly been that way for Thames since the New York Yankees drafted him in 1996.

A solid hitter in the minors, Thames debuted with a bang: On the first pitch he saw as a big leaguer, he homered off Arizona's Randy Johnson. That shot at Yankee Stadium in 2002 prompted New York manager Joe Torre to push Thames out of the dugout for a curtain call.

After a brief stint with Texas, Thames joined the Tigers in 2004. Then in 2006, he hit 26 home runs in 348 at-bats as Detroit surprised many baseball fans by reaching the World Series.

Last year, when he played in just 86 games, he still hit 18 home runs in 269 at-bats.

His family's strength kept him from worrying about time spent on the bench.

"I can only control what I can control and if I'm not in there, I come in there and cheer for my teammates," Thames said. "I'm a team guy, whatever my team wants me to do, that's what I'm going to do."

What his team wants him to do is continue to hit the ball like he has been.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Thames has earned the job as the team's No. 1 left fielder.

"I'm dumb, but I'm not an idiot," Leyland said. "I'm going to play him."

Thames isn't just hitting homers in meaningless situations, he's hitting homers when they count. Of his seven home runs, five came in games the Tigers won.

"The one thing I like about Marcus, and for me, the most important thing is Marcus hits them when they mean something," Leyland said.

Given his recent success, a Thames homer is starting to look ordinary.

"We were kidding him the last day in San Diego, he only got a single and he's going to be on the trading block now," Jones said.

Equally impressive has been Thames' attitude since he achieved success in the majors. Mainly, that it hasn't changed.

"He does everything that you hope as a man and a human you're supposed to do," Jones said. "You take care of your momma, you take care of your family and you keep your mouth shut.

"And when you go deep and everybody wants to talk to you, you still maintain the same person."

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