Elise Thomas puts The Big Hurt on affiliated, but divided loyalty

May 28, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

CHICAGO -- She sat in Suite No. 450 at Comiskey Park, her 2-year-old son munching a hot dog, her 2-month-old daughter letting out an occasional cry.

Now came the true test for Frank Thomas' wife.

All right, Elise, White Sox or Orioles?

The question might seem ridiculous, considering that her husband is one of the biggest sports heroes in Chicago, with a contract that could keep him in a White Sox uniform through the year 2000.

But let's talk roots.

Elise Thomas is formerly a Silver, a Rochester Silver, a Rochester Red Wings Silver. Her family was involved with the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate before the Big Hurt was even born.

Silver Stadium, home of the Red Wings, is named for her great uncle, Maury. Naomi Silver, the team's chief operating officer, is her second cousin.

All right, Elise.

White Sox or Orioles?

"I'll always be an Oriole fan," she said last night. "Obviously, I care about how the White Sox do more than the Orioles. But growing up in Rochester, the Orioles will always be in my heart. I'm happy to see them do well."

How big a fan was she?

"Oh, huge," she said, smiling.

Thomas knows this, but he claims to have set his wife straight. "Of course, she was an Orioles fan," he said. "She grew up with that organization her whole life because of her family. But she doesn't keep up with it anymore."

Every time the White Sox and the Orioles play, Thomas jokingly reminds Elise, "You better root for us. You're not an Orioles fan anymore." And then, to ensure she doesn't confuse allegiances, he crushes the Orioles' bones.

Thomas went 3-for-4 with a double and his 18th home run last night to help the White Sox defeat the Orioles, 3-0. He's now 13-for-21 with four homers lifetime off Mike Mussina, a modest .619 average.

"I throw the best stuff I can give him, and he singles up the middle and doubles down the left-field line," Mussina said. "I give him something not quite as good, and he takes it over the fence. That's the way it's been for three years."

Of course, Thomas isn't only Mussina's nemesis. In 36 career games against the Orioles, he has batted .348 with 15 homers and 42 RBIs. Two of his seven two-homer games have come at Camden Yards.

To think, Elise didn't even recognize his name when they met in the spring of 1991, at the Columbia restaurant in Sarasota, Fla. "Frankly, I had never heard of him," she said. "I pride myself on knowing a lot about sports. But I didn't know who he was."

Thomas had made a spectacular debut in the second half of 1990, but no one was calling him The Big Hurt just yet. Elise was touring spring training sites with her cousin, and both the White Sox and Orioles were in Sarasota. Thomas approached their table and started talking baseball with Naomi, thinking they were Orioles wives.

The chat lasted 15 minutes, and then Thomas departed with former White Sox teammate Melido Perez. Elise grew up around the game, "swearing I'd never marry a ballplayer." But she bumped into Thomas again the next night, and one thing led to another.

She had graduated from Indiana in 1989, lived in New York City briefly, then moved back to Rochester. At the time, she had just taken the law boards, and was preparing to go to law school. But the 6-foot-5, 257-pound Thomas changed everything.

"We never really dated," she said. "We knew each other two weeks and moved in together. I was skeptical about the whole thing from the start. He was so sure. But after seeing a lot of what went on in baseball, I didn't want to be part of that life."

Yet, here she is now, in her own private suite, watching her MVP husband. Elise recalls cheering for Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray in Rochester, and describes Jim Palmer as "one of my idols." As her husband said, "She totally understands everything. She knows the game well."

Ask Elise if Silver Stadium is a difficult home-run park, and she just shrugs. "They say it's not the easiest," she said. "But I saw Sam Horn hit one that I think is still going. It hit the roof of the building across the street."

Sam Horn!

Now there's a fan.

Indeed, Elise is constantly talking baseball with her husband about "who's overrated, who's underrated, who should go for who." Ripken is the only current Oriole she saw play at Rochester. But to this day, she still follows her old favorite team.

"It didn't change as soon as I met him," she said. "I still secretly root for the Orioles. But not when they're playing the White Sox. I'm happy to see a good team do well, put it that way. I think the Orioles made a lot of smart moves."

Now, if they could only figure out how to get her husband out.

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