Bonded by past, Thome, Vizquel elicit nostalgia
Former Indians teammates exchange lineup cards before finale
CLEVELAND -- For nine years, they spent most cool, breezy September evenings putting the finishing touches on an American League Central crown.
Now, another nine years have elapsed since Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel both donned the same jersey bearing the script "I" or the Chief Wahoo. As they close out another season in the twilight of their careers, they participated in an exchange that elicited an aura of nostalgia throughout the Progressive Field crowd.
In a nightly routine typically executed by the bench coaches, Thome and Vizquel swapped lineup cards at home plate prior to Thursday's first pitch between the Indians and White Sox.
"To be able to still play and to be able to take the lineup card and have him do it as well," Thome said, "is very special, especially here in Cleveland, where we played during the golden years of our career. To have fun with that is great."
No longer are Thome -- a part-time designated hitter for the Indians -- and Vizquel -- a utility infielder for the White Sox -- the potent threats on the diamond they once were.
Still, between them, Thome, 41, and Vizquel, 44, have accounted for eight All-Star appearances and 11 Gold Glove awards, and more than 5,000 hits and 600 homers. They secured a sizable portion of those accolades beside Lake Erie while tallying six American League Central titles and two league pennants.
"You don't realize what kind of team and what kind of teammates you have until you see it now from where we are," Vizquel said. "Now, you look back and say, 'Wow, those guys were amazing. We had one of the greatest teams ever.'"
Their admiration for each other has not worn off, despite nine years in different dugouts.
"He's just an amazing human being," Vizquel said. "I'm so glad he's still around. He's a guy who has been so honest and truthful to the game. He's the image people want to follow. He keeps out of trouble, and he really cares when he asks how you're doing. You can tell the guy means it."
Thome remains in awe of Vizquel's ability to man the infield at such a steep age.
"To be that age at that demanding a position," Thome said, "he's taken very good care of himself."
Tribe first-base coach Sandy Alomar, who played with the duo in Cleveland for six years, can't believe Thome and Vizquel are still suiting up.
"It's weird to see guys you played with from the beginning," Alomar said. "I'm excited for them, though. They've accomplished a lot of things that many other players haven't accomplished."
Neither Thome nor Vizquel is quite ready to pull the trigger on retirement just yet. Vizquel declared Wednesday his intentions to return in 2012, whether with the White Sox or elsewhere. Thome remained unsure about his future endeavors.
"You have to get phone calls to play next year, so that process still has to happen," Thome said. "We'll reflect and look back at this year, sit down with my wife and we'll see where we're at."
The Indians acquired Thome from the Twins on Aug. 25, as they hoped he could serve as a jolt for a scuffling lineup trying to keep the team in playoff contention. The Tribe faded down the stretch, but Thome's impact has prevented the club from suffering buyer's remorse.
"He's so open to sharing information and knowledge," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "These guys, a lot of them were not even in high school when Jim was in the prime of his career here, but they idolize him and respect him."
Thome made his mark outside of the clubhouse as well. The Indians attracted more than 100,000 fans the weekend of his return to Cleveland. That speaks volumes to the power of nostalgia brought about by the '90s Indians.
"Looking back at it," Thome said, "it's pretty cool that we still have guys that are playing from that time."
Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.