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01/14/11 3:30 PM EST
Thome excited to be back with Twins
Slugging DH is 11 home runs shy of vaunted 600-homer club
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Thome's chase for home run No. 600 will come in a Twins uniform. The Twins announced Friday that they have agreed to terms on a one-year contact with Thome. The designated hitter's deal is worth $3 million and includes performance bonuses based on plate appearances. "It's just great to be back," Thome said during a conference call with reporters on Friday. "Minnesota's a wonderful place." Thome, 40, played a prominent role last season in helping the Twins to win the American League Central. After beginning the 2010 season in a part-time role with the club, Thome became an everyday fixture in the lineup when Justin Morneau went down with a season-ending concussion on July 7. The veteran slugger led the Twins with 25 home runs last season, batting .283 with 59 RBIs in 108 games. In slugging so many homers for Minnesota, Thome passed Rafael Palmeiro, Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGwire and Frank Robinson and currently sits in eighth place on the all-time career home run list. Thome, who is currently 11 home runs shy of the vaunted 600 mark, could certainly have some exciting personal achievements in 2011, but he said his focus is the same as it was last season with the Twins: to get them to the World Series. "Let's face it, it's a big thing in the game, a part of history," said Thome of the possibility of reaching 600 homers. "But having said that, I don't want to get wrapped up in any individual numbers or stats. That's one of the things the Twins do so well -- it's not about one guy. "I don't want to say, 'Let's do this and get it over with,' because it's tough to hit home runs. If it happens, it will be wonderful, but this is a great team and I want to be a big part of it." The Rangers were also interested in Thome and made a strong effort to sign him. But while he made the decision to return to Minnesota, which is not too far from his offseason home near Chicago, Thome praised last year's American League pennant winners for being a "class organization." "Obviously they have a very good team as well," Thome said of the Rangers. "That kind of made this decision a difficult one, because both teams, in my mind, had an opportunity to win. "I think the main thing [in] coming back to Minnesota -- there were several reasons -- but the main thing [is] obviously my family was very comfortable here. Where I live in the wintertime is close to Minnesota. The rapport I had with my teammates, it was just a wonderful place to play and I tried to put that above anything else." Thome has not ruled out playing beyond 2011. Even though he could become just the eighth player in history to reach 600 home runs at some point this season, the slugger said that he's not approaching the upcoming year as his last. "I don't want to go into this season thinking this is my last year, because I think that's unfair," Thome said. "My plan is to possibly play two more years." Thome has credited manager Ron Gardenhire, who rationed his playing time, and his teammates on the Twins for helping to revitalize his career last season. It didn't take long for the slugger to decide after he went home following the Twins' playoff exit last season that he wanted to keep playing. "I still felt like, 'Man, I can still do this,'" Thome said. "When I got home this winter, I wasn't hurting, my body wasn't beat up. I said, 'This may work out.' That's why I said I don't want to put a number on how many more years [I'll] play. I will say this -- I feel great." The Twins had expressed hope throughout the offseason that they would be able to re-sign Thome, who had been one of the best bargains in baseball after signing a one-year, $1.5 million with the Twins last January. And now, the club has one of its critical pieces back in the mix. "We would not have won the division without him," general manager Bill Smith said. "Obviously, he was a big bat in the lineup, but he was also a leader in the clubhouse and community. I can't say enough about what he's accomplished in his career. We brought him back to win."