Jim Thome was on the phone the other day, rattling off some of his favorite Philadelphia memories.

There was the rousing greeting that workers building Citizens Bank Park gave him on a recruiting visit in November 2002.

There was that electric weekend series against the Cardinals in August 2003, when he homered three nights in a row, earning three curtain calls from the fans at Veterans Stadium, as the Phils pulled off a sweep to stay a half-game up in the National League wild-card race.

And, of course, there was that night in June 2004 when he hit his 400th homer, and the fans stood and cheered as if they were saluting a loved one.

"You hear Philadelphia is a tough place to play," Thome said. "But from day one, those people took me in, and I'm grateful."

When Thome took the field at CBP on June 26, 2005, he didn't know he'd be playing his final game as a Phillie in Philadelphia. Injuries and the rise of Ryan Howard led to his being traded to the Chicago White Sox after the season.

The trade has worked out well for Thome, 36. He's playing in his home state. He's healthy and productive again. Before the season is over, he could join the 500-homer club.

Tomorrow night, Thome returns to Philadelphia with the White Sox. He never had the chance to tip his cap to the fans before he left, and he's eager to do so now - even if the absence of the designated hitter in the interleague series cuts into his playing time.

"Philly was very good for me," he said. "I left the only place I had ever known as a player, Cleveland. It was like stepping out for the first time. To get accepted the way they accepted me in Philly, I'll never forget that."

After a decade in Cleveland, Thome was lured here by an $85 million contract, some of which the Phils are still paying. During his three seasons in Philadelphia, Thome was a great teammate and a giant in the community. He twice had 40-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs. He was injured most of 2005 - first his back, then his elbow.

When Thome speaks of the good that happened to him in Philadelphia, one of the first people he mentions is former trainer Jeff Cooper, who helped devise the core strengthening program that Thome still does. Before picking up a bat, Thome does 90 minutes of back and abdomen exercises every day.

"It's really helped keep me healthy," he said.

Becoming a full-time DH has also helped Thome's back.

"I can't say not playing first base is the reason I've stayed healthy, but I think it's been a good thing for me," he said.

Thome spent some time on the disabled list with a strained rib cage earlier in the season. At the time he went down on April 28, he was first in the American League in on-base percentage (.553), fourth in slugging (.680) and sixth in batting average (.340). He entered Friday hitting .288 with eight homers and 21 RBIs in 36 games.

Thome still follows the Phillies. He speaks with manager Charlie Manuel, his hitting guru, several times a month. He likes the way Howard has looked at the plate recently.

"I've watched his at-bats on TV, and it looks like he's hitterish, like he's ready to do damage," Thome said. "He looks confident in the box. That's tough to teach."

Howard, last year's MVP, struggled out of the gate this season, but Thome doesn't think anyone, including Howard, should worry.

"When you put your name on the map and become a superstar like he has, things change," Thome said. "As much scouting and preparation as there is in this game, there's an adjustment phase a hitter has to go through.

"I'm sure teams are in their meetings saying, 'We can't let this guy hurt us.' Ryan just has to stay patient and let the game come to him. He's such a talent. He'll be fine."

Thome recalled some advice Manuel gave him long ago: Just try to hit .300 and everything else will fall into place.

Thome is recalling that advice a lot these days. He entered the weekend needing 20 homers to reach 500.

"Look at the guys in that club, [Mike] Schmidt, [Mickey] Mantle," Thome said. "It's an elite group. I'm amazed and appreciative that I have a chance to be in it.

"But I try not to get wrapped up in it. Home runs are tough to hit. You can't go into a game thinking, 'I'm going to hit a home run tonight.' It doesn't work that way. If you start thinking that way, you're headed for bad times.

"I go back to what Charlie always said: Focus on .300. If you do that, home runs will take care of themselves. If I try to hit .300 and put the ball in play, good things will happen."

Many good things have happened to Jim Thome in his career. Let's hope something else good happens tomorrow night: a standing ovation.