Paul Konerko’s future uncertain as he enters last season of contract
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com February 18, 2013 12:07AM
Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko watches batting practice during baseball spring training in Phoenix, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) ORG XMIT: AZPS103
Updated: March 19, 2013 6:20AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Looking too far into the future goes against Paul Konerko’s methodical approach to his craft. But on the first official full-squad day of spring training Sunday, there was no getting around questions about life after baseball or life without the White Sox.
Konerko, the face of the Sox’ franchise, their captain and the last player on the team with a link to their 2005 World Series champions, is playing out the last year of a three-year contract. A fast-approaching 37th birthday puts him on the receiving end of old-guy clubhouse cracks.
‘‘Any time you see somebody with a gray beard, you assume they’re old,’’ slugger Adam Dunn said Sunday. ‘‘I don’t even know how old Paul is, but, yeah, he’s old.’’
There’s more, but Konerko doesn’t mind.
‘‘[Tyler] Flowers has been getting a little chippy in there,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘I’m going to have to knock him down a rung. Every time I walk by him, he’s got something to say. It’s all good fun. I know there will be a day where you might not miss the actual game, but every guy I’ve ever talked to that’s been out of the game says: ‘I miss the plane rides. I miss the bus rides. I miss the clubhouse.’ You try to enjoy that stuff as much as you can.’’
Konerko has been down this road before with the Sox. The Angels and Orioles courted him in 2005 and the Diamondbacks in 2010.
Konerko, who has hit 415 of his 422 home runs and has 1,307 of his 1,336 RBI with the Sox, takes great pride in being with one team all these years. But . . .
‘‘As you get older, you have be more flexible if you want to continue to play,’’ he said. ‘‘You have to be more flexible to move around, and it might be in a place you don’t want to go.
‘‘This is just dusting off those feelings and thoughts and getting back to what I was thinking three years ago, [when] I was prepared for anything then — the end of my career, the end of . . . me playing for the White Sox. I was prepared for that three years ago, so to do it again is really not that big of a deal.’’
‘‘It can be a distraction if you focus on that,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. ‘‘But he’s good at focusing on a lot of things at once, so that won’t be an issue.’’
A subpar second half after a blistering first half in 2012 raised speculation Konerko had reached the point where his numbers were starting to fade. If he hadn’t been slowed by a concussion, been hit in the face by a pitch from the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija and had to deal with a floating bone chip in his left wrist, which was removed after the season, a more definitive assessment could be made. Konerko also had some back and foot issues, which aren’t that uncommon for guys in their late 30s.
‘‘You want to keep it going or keep it cranking, and it put you at a standstill,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘I didn’t like that, but that’s just part of the game. It’s luck, really, is all it is. Hopefully, it just doesn’t get you.’’
Retirement will get him eventually, but when it does will become clearer as the season unfolds. Konerko said he thinks about doing something far removed from baseball when he’s done, although he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of being involved in the game again at some point.
Enough of the retirement talk, though. There’s a season to be played.
‘‘I think we will be pretty good,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘The one thing about our team is that you feel good about that intangible, the way we’re
doing things here and the way things were done last year.
‘‘You can try to figure it out on paper and say we have this or we’re lacking here. Every team is doing that right now, and obviously there are teams that look stronger. But I think there is a general feeling here, like last year, that it will be OK, that we’ll battle through it.’’