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“We’re all looking forward to him hitting this next one, and then the anticipation will be unbelievable,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “So that’s something that we’ve been watching and enjoying.”

Gardenhire added: “Every time he walks up there and starts taking a swing, you know the ball can fly.”

Thome has been careful not to put too much emphasis on the milestone itself.

“You don’t ever want to fall into that trap,” he said. “Obviously every day is about winning the ballgame, and if you do something in that game, if it’s to hit a home run or to get close to a milestone, then it’s all worth it. But I don’t want to ever think of it as, ‘Oh, today I’ve got to come to the park and hit a homer.’”

He’s come a long way since Manuel taught him in the minors to open up his stance and harness his natural power. Now he’s trying to gather as many of his home run balls as he can, asking the team to invite the lucky ones to trade the memorabilia for a postgame visit, autographs and perhaps other rewards for their willingness to add to his collection of more than 100 balls.

“What a cool thing to do, if you can play long enough,” Thome said. “You’ve got to hit home runs to do it. Who knows? One day my kids might go through ‘em, and there might be a story behind each ball.”

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AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.