MINNEAPOLIS — In his first season in Minnesota, Jim Thome has taken to wearing a purple No. 4 Brett Favre shirt during his pregame workouts at Target Field.
The slugger and the quarterback have long admired each other from afar, but have never met. Maybe that’s because their careers, at least for the last few years, have been on remarkably parallel paths.
Both came to Minnesota after distinguishing themselves with division rivals, turned 40 in their first seasons here and were rejuvenated by the change of scenery and a young, competitive team.
“When you get to our age, even sooner, you’re kind of looked at as on the way out,” Favre told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “We’ve proven that to be a myth. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s pretty special. Just the fact that it’s 40 makes it better, makes it sweeter.”
Favre tormented the Vikings for 16 seasons in Green Bay, but went through a bitter divorce with the Packers in 2007. After a shaky season with the New York Jets, he arrived in Minnesota in 2009, a year ahead of Thome, determined to prove he still had some magic left in that right arm of his.
Even he didn’t expect what followed. Favre, who turns 41 on Sunday, had what he called the best season of his 19-year career, throwing for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions to help the Vikings reach the NFC title game.
Two days after Favre and the Vikings lost to the New Orleans Saints in overtime to miss out on the Super Bowl, Thome agreed to a $1.5 million, one-year deal with the Twins.
“I’ve thought about that and it is quite a coincidence,” Thome said of the comparisons to Favre. “It’s been special. To look at it like that is special. I think as we go on here, maybe we’ll look back at that.”
Thome became a star in Cleveland, helping the Indians supplant the Twins as the AL Central’s top team in the mid-1990s. He specialized in hitting long home runs at the Metrodome, leaving many Twins fans to wonder how well he would do if he played 81 games a season under the big, white roof.
After three years in Philadelphia, Thome returned to the division with the Chicago White Sox in 2006.
His solo homer in Game 163 in 2008 propelled the White Sox into the playoffs and sent the Twins home early for the winter. He was traded to the Dodgers late in 2009, but wanted to return to the White Sox in his home state of Illinois to finish his career.
The White Sox decided to go in another direction at designated hitter, so Thome wound up taking a cut-rate deal with the Twins to chase a World Series title and show everyone he still had plenty of pop in that big left-handed swing.
The Twins initially planned to use him primarily as a pinch hitter late in close games, but an injury to Justin Morneau increased his role in a hurry. He turned 40 in August and enters the postseason with a team-leading 25 home runs in just 276 at-bats.
He has spent a memorable season climbing up the career home run chart, passing Rafael Palmeiro, Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGwire and Frank Robinson to move into eighth place with 589 homers and helping the Twins win their sixth division title of the decade.
Thome and the Twins open their AL division series against the New York Yankees on Wednesday night.
“This season has definitely rejuvenated me, sure,” Thome said. “It makes you think, you keep putting the work in and maybe you’ll be rewarded. You do it together. That’s the main thing.”
Favre, who actually preferred baseball to football as a kid and dreamed of one day playing in the big leagues, has gotten quite a kick out of watching another 40-year-old show all these young kids how it’s done.
“Quietly, the biggest thing that crosses my mind is, ‘Aw shucks,'” Favre said. “You know how tough it is. I really don’t think people appreciate how tough it is, let alone at 21. At our age, you don’t see too many guys still playing. Maybe that’s because they’re all smarter than we are.”
Ask each one what the biggest key was to their revivals, and both point to their teammates — some of them are nearly half their ages. That gap has never been an issue for the Twins or the Vikings.
Favre has delighted his teammates with his child-like antics.
When the Twins clinched the AL Central title, Thome was the biggest kid in the room, dumping buckets of beer and water on his teammates.
“For an older player to be welcomed is a big part of it,” Favre said. “It’s been very good for Jim and I. It makes you feel a little bit younger again, to have a little fun.”
So far, Favre’s second season with the Vikings hasn’t been as entertaining. The Vikings (1-2) are off to a slow start thanks in large part to injuries at receiver that have grounded Favre’s high-flying passing game.
“We haven’t had that magic in these first three games,” Favre said. “It’s hard to do it on a consistent basis, to hit home runs, to knock guys in, to throw touchdown passes.”
If anything, it shows just how remarkable last year was for Favre, and this year has been for Thome.
“The expectations, I didn’t have any,” Thome said. “I just wanted to be a part of this club and get an opportunity to win. It’s worked out great and hopefully we can continue to take it a little further.”