This afternoon the Mud Hens will raise the curtain on the 2005 season, and Toledo's cast will include an improbable member.
Marcus Thames will be in the outfield for the Hens at 1 p.m. today at Durham.
That may come as a surprise to people who watched him play in Toledo or Detroit last year, as well as to fans who watched him this spring. But Thames said his demotion to Toledo at the end of spring training didn't faze him at all.
"I'm a big boy - I've been through a lot of hard things in my life," he said. "This isn't the roughest thing I've been through."
The "rough" times came while the 28-year-old Thames was growing up in Louisville, Miss.
"I grew up as one of five children reared by a single mom," Thames said.
"I think about that all the time. But that's why I'm smiling now: I still have a chance to help my family."
He also has a chance to help the Mud Hen offense, something that brings a smile to the face of manager Larry Parrish.
"We really didn't think we would have him," Parrish said of Thames. "I would think he would be the first guy they [the Tigers] call for. But for now we have a big-league hitter in the middle of our lineup."
Thames dominated International League pitching last season, slugging a league-leading 24 home runs in just 64 games and topping the IL in RBIs and runs scored before his June 22 promotion to Detroit.
He struggled with the Tigers at first, then hit a home run at Colorado July 2 that helped spark a fast finish. Thames finished with 10 home runs in just 61 games.
He also hit well this spring, finishing second on the Tigers with four homers and 14 RBIs. Thames heard about the furor in the Tigers' clubhouse after his demotion was announced, but he tried not to get involved.
"I didn't want to get caught up in that stuff," he said. "I called some people to thank them for seeing how I go about my work. I'm not loud, I'm not outgoing. I just try to play the game the right way. And certain people saw that and appreciated that."
Thames said his plan is to not change his spring-training attitude.
"I can walk around looking sad and down in the mouth and not play up to my abilities, and just not get the job done," Thames said.
"Or I can walk around with my chin up, smiling and having a good time, and help the Mud Hens win ballgames."
Thames said that attitude hasn't changed over the course of his career, which began after the Yankees made him a 30th-round draft pick in 1997.
"I talked to some of the Yankee coaches that I played with and coaches like Stump Merrill, they said I still have the smile on my face that I always have had," Thames said.
"I just enjoy playing the game, and that's what I have to take into this season."
Thames hasn't set goals for this season based on numbers, and he hasn't set goals based on the date he wants to return to the big leagues.
In fact, Thames said he enters every new season with the same goal.
"I've got [my goal] written [on my cap]: 'Go hard,'●" Thames said.
"That's my main thing. If I play hard and play to my abilities, I'll be fine."
And if Thames plays up to his abilities, he may not wear a Mud Hens uniform very long.
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