Q&A with Jim and Andrea Thome
Baseball Hall-of-Famer and award-winning novelist make life a grand adventure
Success runs in the family. Recent baseball Hall of Fame inductee and home run hitter extraordinaire Jim Thome — he hit 612, eighth most all time — played on six major league teams, including the Chicago White Sox. Back in 1995, the young slugger from Peoria was part of a star line-up for the Cleveland Indians when he sat down for a fateful interview with local TV sports reporter Andrea Pacione — the two would later marry. Today, Jim takes his turn on-camera as a sports analyst for the MLB Network, while Andrea, who gave up her broadcasting career to support Jim’s life in baseball, has reinvented herself as an award-winning writer of women’s fiction. For Valentine’s month, WSL talked with the Burr Ridge couple to find out how they manage dual careers and a busy family life — and how they make time for romance!
How did the two of you meet?
AT: I met Jim interviewing him on opening day of 1995. We didn’t start dating though until later that summer. I thought he was so kind the first moment I met him.
JT: I called her up after a day game where I’d hit two home runs in Cleveland. I was feeling a little extra confident, I guess. She caught my eye from the very first moment. I just had to pick my spot.
AT: And we just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, so it all worked out.
What do you enjoy doing together?
JT: I’d say travel, especially to places where we can do things outdoors.
AT: We both love to hike, so Colorado, Tennessee and California are favorite places for sure. We also really love something as simple as having coffee together in the morning, before the kids are awake.
Jim, when did you take up baseball?
JT: I’ve been playing for as long as I can remember. I started in T-ball, so maybe age 5 or 6? Even before that, though, with my older brothers in the driveway.
Who inspired you?
JT: I was a Cubs fan growing up and Dave Kingman was my favorite. I guess I always loved the longball hitters. I follow all of the teams now, for my job as a broadcaster at the MLB Network. I travel to Secaucus, NJ, once a month and work on-air as an analyst for a week at a time. It’s so much fun to see the game from a different angle.
Was there a clear breakthrough point?
JT: I guess the turning point for me was when I met Charlie Manuel. He really taught me to believe in myself and he helped me perfect my timing. He’s responsible for my swing . . . and for teaching me to point the bat to get ready, like Roy Hobbs in “The Natural.” He’s like a second father to me.
Andrea, were you always a writer?
AT: My mom was a self-published poet and evidently, that rubbed off on me because I won a scholarship for writing an article on travel and tourism in Ohio, which paid for my entire college education.
Were you a baseball fan?
AT: I was a sports fan, mostly because it’s all my dad and brother watched. I was more competitive than athletic, which helped me as a four-year letter-winner in tennis in high school. As for marrying a sports star, it never entered my mind. I truly didn’t see Jim coming. But when he arrived into my life, it felt like a missing puzzle piece clicked into place.
Tell our readers about your books.
AT: I’ve written and published three books so far, which make up my award-winning Hesse Creek Series. Walland was first, followed by Seeds of Intention and House of Belonging. They’re women’s fiction; love stories — sexy but classy. I hope they will leave readers feeling hopeful and happy.
Has Valentine’s Day ever inspired you?
AT: Now that I think about it, I do some of my best writing during the first half of the year, so it must inspire me — at least subliminally!
How did a top-tier career in sports affect your family life?
JT: I missed a lot of weddings, graduations, and other family gatherings for the better part of 22 years. We moved A LOT. Andrea did the heavy lifting. When our daughter was two months old, Andrea bought our house in Philadelphia while I was in spring training, moved all our furniture in from Ohio, and gave me directions to get home the night before opening day. That’s true concierge service!
AT: (laughing) I pack a mean box. We’ve lived in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Baltimore, then Cleveland again, and Philly again, as well as in Florida and Arizona for two months each year for spring training. The most important thing to me was to keep our family together. It was a grand adventure.I gave up my career in broadcasting to be a baseball wife and mom, but I look at that as a blessing more than a sacrifice. I feel so lucky to have had that first career in television, followed by my time as a full-time mom and wife, and now my renaissance as an author. Any working parent knows that it’s tough to strike a balance between work and home, but I do my best. I am lucky that Jim is so supportive when I’m going crazy and up against a deadline. Life is good!
What made you choose Burr Ridge as a place to live?
JT: We lived in Hinsdale for six years before moving to Burr Ridge for a bigger yard. Our son plays baseball, basketball and likes to skateboard, so he needed some room to roam! We love the area. It’s also nice and close for my commute to the White Sox, where I’m working now as a special assistant to the General Manager.
AT: The schools are great, and we have some wonderful friends. We really cherish those friendships. It feels good to finally have put down some roots.
Jim, how did if feel to find out you were accepted in the Hall of Fame?
JT: It was a dream come true. To see “New York, New York” show up on my cell phone and know it was the Hall calling. I still get chills thinking about it. Better than my wildest dreams.
Are your children into baseball?
AT: Landon plays for the Burr Ridge Braves, and I have to say . . . he’s got the eye of the tiger, just like his dad. It’s so much fun to watch him play, and to watch Jim coach.
JT: He’s my top prospect, for sure. And while my daughter isn’t into sports, her voice will bring you to tears. Having her sing the National Anthem at my Hall of Fame Induction was a highlight of my life.
Tell our readers about your many philanthropic projects
That is one of my favorite things about my writing career. For each of my books, I donated the proceeds from every stop on the book tours to charities in the cities where the events were held. I specifically chose organizations I knew would maximize the donations in order to help the most people, usually women and children. We do a lot for kids organizations and foster kids and families in crisis, in particular. It’s so important to give back.
What’s next for you both?
JT: I’m excited to be managing the Future’s Game at the All-Star Game in Cleveland this summer, as well as playing in the celebrity softball game. Then we head back to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame weekend.
AT: We’ve also been working with a group called Stop Sterigenics since last August to fight for clean air in our western suburbs and beyond. We’re aiming to shut down a company that has been polluting with a class-one carcinogen (ethylene oxide) into our neighborhoods since 1984. If we don’t have our health, then what? Personally, I’m also writing a new novel which I hope to release in the fall of this year. Busy, busy!
Best spot for a romantic night out? Davanti Enoteca in Western Springs
Plans for Valentine’s Day? Our son Landon has basketball practice, so . . . (laughs) I guess we’ll figure something out. Maybe a breakfast date?
Favorite things to do in the burbs in your free time? We love walking and biking together in the forest preserves and hunting for great new breakfast spots. We recently found one in Elmhurst: Stray Hen Cafe. Great hash browns!
Favorite places for a family day out? Naper Settlement is such a cool place. The Arboretum is awesome, but we always get in trouble for throwing the football — no balls allowed!
How do your friends describe you as a couple? JT: They think we’re funny, I guess? I hope! AT: (laughing) They DEFINITELY think you’re funny. I think they see us as a good team...
Place you’d like to live, if not Burr Ridge? Aspen, Colorado. Someday.