I haven’t been 8 years old in a long time. I realize pro sports puts business ahead of sentiment. And over time I gradually have become less of a fanatic about sports. But when I saw the headlines that Jim Thome had been traded from the White Sox, I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. Really.

I haven’t been 8 years old in a long time.

I realize pro sports puts business ahead of sentiment.

And over time I gradually have become less of a fanatic about sports.

But when I saw the headlines that Jim Thome had been traded from the White Sox, I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. Really.

I remember the buzz I felt the day before Thanksgiving of 2005, when I’d heard through the local grapevine that Thome would be coming from the Phillies to the Sox. I’d already met the guy, through his work raising money for the Children’s Hospital. Though I’d despised him when he played for the Cleveland Indians — nothing personal: Sox fans hate the Indians — I respected his hitting achievements.

For a Sox fan, it’s hard to explain what it meant to have Thome in the black pinstripes. In part, it was great to see the Sox, with their historically minuscule following here, get some attention from Thome’s star power. That connection got severed with the news late Monday about the trade to the Dodgers.

“I was just devastated,” says Frank Abdnour, 50, a Sox lifer. “ ... It was like grieving at a funeral.”

Abdnour is such a Sox freak that he gave out free ice cream at his Spotted Cow after the team won the World Series in 2005. That was just before Thome came to Chicago, an arrival that made Abdnour crazy with glee.

“Jim is what you want: he’s a throwback player,” Abdnour says. “It’s not about the money; it’s about the game.”

That was echoed by Greg “Gebby” Gebhards, whose Schooner’s pub in Peoria Heights boasts something of a Thome shrine: a display of his jerseys from the Sox, Indians and Phillies. Thome’s family and friends hang out there, which is why every year the bar raises thousands of dollars for Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Thome’s name.

I had the sad chore of phoning Gebhards Tuesday morning to wake him up and deliver the news of Thome’s departure.

“I’ll be damned,” blurted Gebhards, 61, who just got back from a trip to the baseball Hall of Fame, where he saw the display of Thome’s homer No. 500. “I think Jim Thome brings more to a ball club than just a hit. This guy is outstanding. You never hear a negative thing about him.”

And what a game he played. Says Gary Egel, 54, a lifelong Sox supporter: “Look at how many big moments he had with the Sox.”

There was his first home game, in 2006, which he won with a home run. There was the one-game playoff game last season, which the Sox won 1-0 on a Thome homer. And, of course, there was his 500th blast, which Egel tracked down in the stands in the hands of another fan — and helped arrange a trade that got the ball for the Thome family.

Egel and a small band of other locals ensured a Peoria presence at every Sox home stand over the past three years. At first, that surprised Thome’s father, Chuck Thome; when he first heard about the 2005 trade, he told Egel and others with exasperation, “There’s about seven Sox fans in central Illinois.”

So, Egel and the rest bought Chuck Thome, 74, a Sox shirt with the number 8 — as in the 8th Sox fan in the Peoria area. Egel laughed at the recollection Tuesday, saying, “I bet there’s now more than seven Sox fans and Jim Thome fans in central Illinois.”

Chuck Thome would agree. He talked to his son just after the trade late Monday, asking why the Dodgers wanted to bring in the 39-year-old veteran just to pinch-hit. Dodger general manager Ned Colletti had told Jim Thome that the team wanted him as a leader as much as a slugger.

“The main thing is to make you a presence in the clubhouse,” Colletti told Jim Thome. “We got a lot of young guys and we think you can show them how to play this game.”

Chuck Thome is excited for his son, who with the first-place Dodgers might win the World Series — something he’s never done. I told Chuck Thome, “That’s great for you: you’re a Jim Thome fan. But I’m a White Sox fan. And this stinks.”

Chuck Thome laughed. Still, he does have a couple of small regrets about the trade. For one, the new role as a part-timer means Jim Thome will lose maybe 100 at-bats this season, which hurts his march toward the vaunted threshold of 600 home runs. Further, Chuck Thome no longer will be able to zip up to Chicago to see his kid play.

Still, Chuck Thome thinks his son likely will go back to the American League as a designated hitter next year, maybe even with the Sox — and eventually get homer No. 600. And for now, Chuck Thome will gladly jump on a plane to Los Angeles whenever he gets the urge. He’ll be there Wednesday night, along with Jim Thome’s wife and children.

Look, I’m glad for Jim Thome. Really. I hope he seizes post-season glory on a national stage. But I’d harbored a kid-like fantasy of his winning the Series with the Sox — not this year, but some day. And then maybe he’d go into the Hall of Fame with a Sox cap on his plaque.

Um, no loss about the latter, Chuck Thome told me.

“He was probably figuring on going in as an Indian anyway,” Chuck Thome says.

Sigh.

I have one and only one sports jersey with a pro’s name on it. That would be a Sox T-shirt, with “THOME 25” on the back.

I think I’ll wear it one more time, Tuesday night. Then I’ll put it away, along with all of my silly, childlike baseball dreams.

Good luck, Jim. Thanks.

Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano can be reached at pluciano@pjstar.com or (309) 686-3155.