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Published: Friday, 6/30/2006

Mom's struggles push Thames through baseball's highs and lows

DETROIT - Marcus Thames' mom has never seen him play baseball in person.

Sadly, it's pretty certain she never will.

Veterine has been bed-ridden for the last 24 years, the result of a car accident in Mississippi that left her paralyzed.

Marcus was just 5 at the time, and because his father, G.W., had earlier deserted the family, he moved in with his aunt and uncle, and his four brothers and sisters lived with his grandmother.

Marcus Thames has been an offensive force for the Tigers this season. He leads the team in slugging percentage. Marcus Thames has been an offensive force for the Tigers this season. He leads the team in slugging percentage.
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The early trauma made Marcus - a 29-year-old outfielder for the Detroit Tigers - grow up in a hurry.

"I didn't live too far from my mom, so I still got a chance to see her and my brothers and sisters," he said. "It wasn't like we lived in another state or anything. When I turned 10, I moved back in with my mom. She was a single parent raising five kids in a three-bedroom apartment in low-income housing."

Marcus' teenage sisters did most of the cooking. His older brother handled the role of dad, making sure Marcus and the rest of the gang did their homework.

His mom would make out the grocery list, but since the family didn't have a car, Marcus and his siblings would have to walk to the store to do the shopping.

"It was tough on all of us, but we survived," Thames said.

Marcus overcame all the obstacles and developed into a better-than-average baseball player.

He was selected in the 30th round of the 1996 draft by the New York Yankees. Six years later, he made his big-league debut but was sent back to Triple-A Columbus after just seven games.

Thames was traded to Texas in June, 2003, and split time between Triple-A Oklahoma City and the Rangers.

The Tigers signed him as a free agent in December, 2003. The last two years he bounced between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo, where he was instrumental in helping the Mud Hens win the International League championship last season.

The knock on Thames in the past was that he couldn't hit the breaking stuff in the big leagues.

That has changed.

Since Dmitri Young went on the disabled list last month, Thames has become a key contributor for the Tigers.

He credits his mom, 51, with a save.

"People kept asking me, 'How do you feel about getting sent down to the minors?' I'm like, I get frustrated, but after what my mom's gone through, it's nothing. It's a cakewalk.

"When you can't get yourself a glass of water when you're thirsty, that's tough. Getting sent down, that's not tough. There's no comparison."

Thames has hit safely in 22 of his last 26 games for the Tigers. He is batting .298 this season, with 15 homers, 30 RBIs, and a team-high .629 slugging percentage.

Marcus' mom watches most of his games via satellite. She scribbles down notes and shares them with him.

"I call her almost every day, and she always says, 'Don't let anything get you down,'‚óŹ" Marcus said. "It's pretty special, considering she has respirators and stuff all hooked up to her. She's a tough lady. I know she's here with me every day."

People have given up on Veterine almost as often as major league teams have given up on Marcus.

But both have fought hard to survive.



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