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WSI News - News Watch

'Big Hurt' back in business

By Jimmy Greenfield / MLB.com

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Take a stab at how awful last year was for Frank Thomas and you wouldn't even come close.

Deprived of practicing his livelihood? Check.

Accused by a teammate of not having any heart? Check.

Witnessed the physical demise and ultimately the death of his father? Check mate.

While those in the White Sox family were aware Thomas was dealing with his father's illness, few could imagine the toll it really took on him. It got so bad that even if a torn right triceps hadn't ended his season on April 27 it would have been difficult for him to continue.

Every year there are a handful of players looking to become baseball's Comeback Player of the Year, but none moreso than Thomas in 2002. He returns to the Sox lineup a changed but familiar man, the one he used to be.

The injury allowed Thomas the opportunity to spend a bit more time with, and then grieve for his father, who passed away on May 4 from kidney and heart ailments.

On May 10, he went on the disabled list and five days later he had surgery to repair his triceps, which had detached from his elbow and rolled up inside the back of his arm, rendering him useless.

"It gave me time to sit back," Thomas said. "If I was playing it could have been a pretty (difficult) year."

Instead of moping around a dour Sox clubhouse and perhaps being a distraction to his teammates who hadn't yet pulled themselves out of a season-killing slump, Thomas underwent his grueling rehab in solitude.

The injury he suffered was rare enough that White Sox trainer Herm Schneider wasn't quite sure if he'd ever seen it happen in baseball before.

When Thomas initially landed on his right arm he did so with the full weight of his 275-pound frame. The triceps muscle was not quite torn off when he fell, but as he tried to get back into shape after returning from his father's funeral the tear became complete.

Most rehabs are brutal, but when you have arms the size of Frank Thomas there's just that much more scar tissue to break down.

"Frank really had to go through hell to break up that scar tissue," Schneider said. "Scar tissue in our world is probably our worst enemy. It prohibits you from doing what you need to do. It's like having a belt around you and you can't break through that belt to break free. And you have to break through it.

"It's very painful and it's very intense. Sometimes it's almost like watching paint dry because you don't see results. You get a little looser, the next day it's tight again."

Even if Thomas were to lose some strength it wouldn't hinder his power, which has helped him club 348 home runs in his 12 Major League seasons. At an imposing 6-foot-5, Thomas can reach out and pull a pitch low and away into the left-field seats.

His home run in Monday's Cactus League game was his third of the spring and lifted his average to a quiet .340 (16-for-47).

"I really worked my butt off in the off-season," Thomas said. "I stayed away from the intense body-building that I had been doing the last three years. I think my body had gotten too tight from years past, that could have helped contribute to that injury last year, being too tight."

White Sox manager Jerry Manuel laughs off suggestions Thomas should avoid diving for ground balls or sliding into home, which he has been doing with aplomb this spring.

Even if Thomas was asked to take it slow, it would be hard to stop him from going all out. There's a liveliness to him this year that hasn.t been seen in several years.

Mini-scandals during Spring Training in 2000, when Thomas argued with Manuel over a running drill, and then last year when he briefly walked out of camp in a contract dispute were put behind him.

The words of his father have been reverberating in his mind all spring.

"The last few conversations with my father, he was saying the same thing," Thomas said. "'You need to get back to having fun, the game's no fun for you anymore. You've never been a nasty person, a negative person and it's looking that way now.'

"Like he told me, 'You just better get back to being the old you because it's very important for you and your career. Have more fun with it. You've accomplished a lot, so you need to really enjoy it.'

"And that's what I'm doing now."



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