Thomas (pacing the room): "A——.213 hitter! What guy in this league makes his living off high inside fastballs?"
Guillen: "He's right! You are only hitting .370! You cannot hit!"
Thomas (yelling from the trainer's room): "He showed me striking out against Ryan on high inside fastballs! Hell, I'm a different hitter now! I was a young kid then! A——.213 hitter! How many MVPs has he won?"
Guillen: "You're right to worry about some guy making $25 a week! You only make $5 million a year!"
Thomas: "Telling me I have a slow bat!"
Guillen: "You do!"
People who are close to your basic bruising Amana-sized athlete always say, 'Yeah, but underneath, he's a big, soft teddy bear." The thing is, big, soft teddy bears rip the easiest. Thomas tears easily—but it's not his ego so much as his sense of his own destiny that is vulnerable.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1977, Thomas committed himself to becoming—in Pamela's honor and in his own—"a great pro baseball player," a man who would someday put up numbers you couldn't get to with a cherry picker. He wanted to do it as soon as possible, right now, because you never know when wonderful little people you love are going to wake up and stop walking. "I remember him saying to me not long after Pamela died, 'Dad, maybe one day I'll be able to do something about it,' " says Frank Sr.
He went on fat-free diets. He ran. He gave up his role as the star player on the high school basketball team to work out for baseball. He had a sense of purpose and commitment you might see in a Jesuit missionary but very rarely in a 13-year-old centerfielder. One time his dad was trying to get Frank's older brother, Michael, to practice his football harder, to work out more, lift some weights, when Frank interrupted: "Daddy, don't fuss with Mike. Mike's gonna be the hardworkin' man. I'm gonna be the athlete."
Mike went into the Army Reserve, and true to his word, Frank became the athlete. "I followed my dreams," Thomas says. "I worked hard enough to get it. A lot of people won't.... Hey, nothing's easy for me. I did this myself."