Konerko sets out on farewell season
Retiring captain hopes to keep focus on field, enjoy final big league tour
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The opening question to Adam Dunn, as he stood outside the White Sox Camelback Ranch clubhouse Thursday morning, dealt with personal emotions surrounding Paul Konerko's last Spring Training.
Dunn paused for a second, chuckled and then deferred the question until later in the interview.
"First one out of the gate, my last Spring Training with Paul Konerko," Dunn said. "I can't answer that. It's got to be like Question 3."
There was a little bit of playful sarcasm thrown in by Dunn, a friend and teammate of Konerko's. Dunn even went as far as to start a Spring Training rumor about not being convinced Konerko will be done after '14.
Konerko would disagree with that particular Dunn guess.
Thursday morning marked Konerko's opening interview of his last Spring Training. It's a process Konerko discussed after announcing prior to the Winter Meetings in December his decision to come back for a 16th and final year with the White Sox. He had a similar conversation during SoxFest at the end of January.
But even though Thursday simply marked the first full-squad workout, and the first Cactus League game remains eight days away, there seemed to be more of a finality to the last run of the man referred to as "King" by his teammates. It's a part-time playing, full-time mentoring role Konerko stands ready for, but it's not an end game Konerko is studying quite yet.
"I've played a long time, but I've never gone through a season where you know, 'OK this is the end of it,'" the soon-to-be 38-year-old Konerko said as part of his 18-minute interview. "So how that all unfolds and how you feel at different moments, you'll just have to wait and see.
"I'll try to give as honest answers and be as upfront with it as I can as we go. But I can't possibly answer how I'm going to feel in June or August. It's tough for me. I don't know. It's the first time I'm going through this and the last time.
"I definitely have some thoughts on things as far as stuff you want to take in along the way that's alongside the baseball stuff," Konerko said. "But just stuff you know, 'OK, this is the last time I'm going to do this and I need to take advantage of it.' I have some thoughts on that kind of stuff, but nothing that's going to get in the way of doing the job."
What is Konerko's on-field job exactly, a question that has been talked about since December? Basically whatever manager Robin Ventura asks.
He figures to go against left-handers at first base or designated hitter. He'll get starts from time to time against tough right-handers or when Jose Abreu needs a break. There's no way Konerko would have considered coming back if he wasn't prepared for a little bit of anything and everything.
As for that mentoring part of the job, Konerko has been playing that role since becoming an established part of the White Sox. He already has taken a more proactive approach during the offseason.
Micah Johnson spoke at SoxFest concerning the impromptu guidance Konerko provided during the hitters' mini-camp in mid-January, describing the extra work Konerko put in with top hitting prospect Courtney Hawkins. Adam Eaton explained Thursday that Konerko had invited him to his Scottsdale home three or four times to hit at Konerko's batting cage, and Eaton referred to that individual work with sort of a baseball "father figure" as an honor.
"You know what, it's all business. He's very analytical," said Eaton of Konerko's guidance. "He dissects a lot of small things and, like I said, it has shown throughout his career."
When asked if a player such as Konerko can provide valuable guidance to young players, Eaton took about two seconds to respond.
"Oh my gosh, yeah," Eaton said. "You just see a guy and how he goes about his business with passion and from an analytical standpoint. You can watch that and not talk to him at all and learn from it."
"He's always been very analytical," White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said of Konerko. "He's very thoughtful in everything he does, which is a really good thing when you're talking about somebody who can manage a clubhouse. To go along with that, he's practical and he's a good guy and people want him around. So it will be good."
Beckham stated that Konerko deserved a victory lap and the game deserved having Konerko around for that victory lap. Konerko quipped that while he appreciates the sentiment and doesn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, the farewell tour idea was on the con side of his reasons for coming back.
Much like Konerko's goals every season when he was more of a featured performer, Konerko wants to play baseball in this last season. Play baseball and certainly talk about it a little, as well, as Dunn pointed out when finally getting to the topic of Konerko's finish.
"I'm not going to miss being in the cage with him. I won't miss that. I won't miss sitting, talking, an hour after batting practice about how he stinks and how he does this and how he does that," Dunn said with a wry smile.
"A lot of people can talk about this or that, but when you have a guy who actually won a World Series and had such a good career, it's easier to stand in front of some things and show how it's done," said Dunn. "He's a special guy."