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Amid White Sox’ empty optimism, Paul Konerko can’t help telling it like it is

Paul Konerko is introduced fans during SoxFest 2012 Palmer House HiltFriday Jan. 27 2012 Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Paul Konerko is introduced to fans during SoxFest 2012 at the Palmer House Hilton Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 1, 2012 8:19AM

There was a time when Paul Konerko drew the short straw and had to call White Sox season-ticket holders the week of SoxFest.

It was a thankless duty. Lie to them, humor them, impress them that a major-league player was taking the time to make sure they were returning for another season. By any means necessary, just get that money.

That seems like a long time ago now. Konerko was younger, more gullible, still believed warm and fuzzy things about baseball.

The way Konerko was talking on opening night of SoxFest at the Palmer House Hilton, the organization wouldn’t want him anywhere near a sales call with potential ticket buyers.

And thank goodness for that.

In a sea of unfounded optimism, Konerko Island was the best place to vacation Friday, offering a firm handshake and a warm shot of reality. Let the other members of the organization hand out froufrou drinks with umbrellas in them; this was whiskey and real talk.

When it was brought to Konerko’s attention that there seemed to be a lot of disgruntled Sox fans out there — a contingent not really represented by the sheep that showed up for the lovefest this weekend — he replied, ‘‘That’s the word on the street.’’

‘Back at square one again’

But rather than cater to the organization with the usual player-speak, Konerko said the fan base had every reason to be fed up with what has gone on with the Sox in recent seasons.

‘‘I would say it won’t matter [what we tell them] until July or into August,’’ Konerko said when asked if there was anything to say to Sox fans at this point. ‘‘You get what you earn, and we haven’t earned anything with our fans over the last couple of years.

‘‘Truth be told, there was that little glimmer at the end of ’08 where we got hot, the Twins got kind of cold and .  .  . we found ourselves in the playoffs. But the honest truth is since ’05, we’ve kind of slowly but surely just kind of given back everything we earned steadily. We’re kind of at this spot now where it’s like, ‘Here we are, back at square one again.’  ’’

Now go grab a credit card and sign right up for the ‘‘Zach Stewart Ticket Plan’’ — or however the Sox want to disguise the fact that you just bought a 10-game ticket package of mediocrity.

That’s the beauty of Konerko, who is entering his 14th season with the Sox: He’s not looking to bend over backward and say the right thing if he doesn’t believe it.

‘‘It’s our job to go out and put that in play, earn it back slowly,’’ Konerko said. “I mean, we hope people come out to watch the game .  .  . but most of the fans and everyone within reason — there can be some that are totally irrational — we’ve earned [their disappointment]. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror as a unit or a group and say, ‘Hey, man, we haven’t been doing what we should have been doing,’ and now it’s about trying to get it back piece by piece.’’

Diamondbacks offer hope

What’s nice about sports is that, in most cases, you never really know. Konerko wasn’t waving a white flag and saying there was no chance; he merely was pointing out how far the Sox have fallen on the trust meter with their fans.

As an example of how the Sox can get that trust back, he pointed to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He said people told him last offseason he was lucky he didn’t sign a free-agent offer with the Diamondbacks because ‘‘they suck.’’ Yeah, sure. They only won the National League West by eight games in 2011.

‘‘[The Diamondbacks] earned it back from their fans,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘It comes with a lot of hard work and a bunch of grind you are willing to do every day. It’s not going to come because you start the year out 6-3. This has to be a steady thing to earn the trust back from the fans. You want them to see that we’ve done it right on all levels. We have not done that, and that’s just me speaking the truth.’’

Someone has to.

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