Jim Thome is so eager to get to spring training that he is heading to Clearwater Friday night.
It will just be a three-day stay for the former All-Star first baseman who is trying to complete his sparkling baseball resume by winning a World Series in his second tour of duty with the Phillies. Thome will likely take some ground balls at first base during his brief stay at the team's spring-training facility.
The big test for Thome, 41, will be whether he can play first base on occasion while Ryan Howard recovers from Achilles' surgery on his left foot. Free-agent addition Ty Wigginton is expected to get the bulk of the playing time during Howard's recovery, but manager Charlie Manuel is on record as saying he'd like to put Thome's name in the lineup on occasion, too.
During the winter meetings, Manuel estimated that Thome could make as many as 20 appearances at first base. Since leaving the Phillies after the 2005 season to make room at first base for Howard, Thome has only started four games at first base.
"Charlie and I have talked," said Thome, who was at Citizens Bank Park speaking to the minor-leaguers in the Phillies' prospect education program. "He has a game plan for me of what he wants me to do. I think the main thing for me is that I've all winter to prepare and now I can get to spring training and be ready from day one. To be honest, I don't know how my back is going to react because I haven't played (first base) in seven years, so that's going to be a phase I'll obviously have to adjust to."
Manuel said he has prepared for first base by doing more stretching -- "pilates and yoga" -- than he has in the past and he has also spent two or three days a week fielding ground balls.
"It has been indoors," he said. "When you live in Chicago, that's the challenge, but there are a couple of facilities around Chicago that have field turf and it has been pretty good. It feels good to get back out there a little bit."
You can read more about Thome in Saturday's Inquirer and, for those of you scoring at home, there are only 30 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.