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White Sox's Thomas Gets Early Start

February 23, 2003|Rick Gano | Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. — As manager Jerry Manuel leaned on a golf cart and discussed a familiar topic -- the return of Frank Thomas to the Chicago White Sox -- the crack of a bat could be heard from the nearby batting cage.

It was Thomas generating the sound as he worked on his hitting stroke with coach Gary Ward.

"Him to come into camp at this time, being this early, being in good shape and swinging the bat with no hindrance from the arm of a couple years ago, he looks good," Manuel said Friday, the day before the team's first full-squad workout.

Thomas has been in Tucson for about a week, first working out with ex-White Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak, his personal batting guru.

He's anxious and eager to get his career back on track after re-signing with the White Sox following an offseason that saw him explore the free agent market.

Thomas went hunting for a job after the White Sox invoked a diminished skills clause in his previous contract that would have allowed to pay him $250,000 annually up front and defer $10,125,000 each year.

He re-signed in December, a one-year contract that also has three years of mutual options. He will make $5 million in 2003 and can void the deal after the season it is over.

Thomas will hold a news conference Saturday after the first official team workout. The two-time MVP has had little to say since returning to the only team he's ever played for.

"I'm just here to play baseball and I'm looking forward to it because we have a good team here," he told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights earlier this week. "It's all about baseball this year. All that other stuff, I don't need it. And I don't want it."

Thomas heard the boos last season at Comiskey Park when he struggled greatly at the plate.

After missing most of the 2001 season when he tore a triceps muscle, he batted just .239 before the All-Star break last year, the lowest average of his career.

He did pick up his game in the final month, finishing the season with a .252 average, 25 home runs and 92 RBIs.

Manuel said he hasn't watched Thomas work on his hitting, but was using his ears to follow what was going on.

"Usually I like to hear the sound to let me know what is happening," Manuel said. "If they are making that loud sound like Magglio (Ordonez) and those guys make, they're close to being ready."

Notes: Carlos Lee isn't likely to make the first workout Saturday because of visa problems. Manuel said he may use Lee as the No. 2 hitter at time this season, although Jose Valentin would be his primary choice or the spot behind leadoff hitter D'Angelo Jiminez.

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