Rowand: Meeting a Hall of Famer
You are Aaron Rowand, a 21-year-old first-round draft pick in 1998, having hit .342 with five homers and 32 RBIs with Hickory after joining the White Sox, appearing at your first big league Spring Training in 1999.
Being that it was the first Spring Training he attended of any kind, Rowand arrived in camp about four or five days early. He walked into the White Sox clubhouse, and as Rowand remembered, there was nobody there “but one large individual sitting in the corner” better known as Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas.
“I was nervous because I had been watching Frank since his rookie year,” said Rowand, who was in Cooperstown this past weekend to celebrate Thomas’ induction. “Going through college, I admired everything that he did and the kind of player he was.
“Obviously he’s Big Hurt. He’s 300 pounds, 6-foot-15 inch individual. He had his head in his locker. I didn’t say anything to him. I sat in my locker, put my stuff in my locker and started unpacking my stuff.”
Rowand was facing the locker, it’s 4 of 5 o’clock in the afternoon. All of a sudden, “I get a big paw on the back of my shoulder. I looked over and up at him.”
“He said, ‘Hey, you had one heck of a year last year. I’m really looking forward to being your teammate. You are going to be up here with us’ and this, that and the other,” said Rowand of his first encounter with Thomas. “Being a 21 year old kid, in a Major League clubhouse, with arguably one of the best players in the game, to have him come up and say something to you, it meant the world to me.
“From that moment on, even through that camp and the other camps that I went through, he was always, always there for a word of encouragement: whether it was how I was supposed to do things, the way the big leaguers do things or where to be so that I’m not on the wrong field, stuff like that.
“It meant the world to me at the time and he’s been one of my closest friends honestly ever since,” Rowand said. “He was a mentor to me from Day 1. Before I ever knew him, he came and introduced himself to me. And obviously the rest speaks for itself, the kind of individual he is and player he was.”
Rowand volunteered this story to illustrate Thomas, the Hall of Fame person.
“To have the honor to be able to play with him for five years, it’s one of the highlights of my career,” Rowand said. “And you are kind of at a loss for words about the kind of person … .
“He’s a big man but his presence is even bigger. It rubs off on people. Like I said, it’s a real honor to be able to be his teammate.”