White Sox GM Rick Hahn still sold on 37-year-old Paul Konerko
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com March 5, 2013 10:45PM
Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko connects for a hit against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a spring training baseball game, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Updated: March 6, 2013 11:53AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — It comes with the territory when you turn 37, as Paul Konerko did Tuesday.
The number is a much bigger deal than 27. If he doesn’t pick a ball out of the dirt at first base or if he gets jammed on a fastball on the inside corner, it must be because he’s getting old.
“Somebody will want to go to age right away,’’ Konerko said Tuesday. “You have to deal with that as an older player. But the fact of the matter is, I screwed it up when I was 23 or 24, too. If you’re lucky to play long enough, you know every time something bad happens you immediately have data hanging over your head. It’s just the way it is.’’
Nobody worried about Konerko’s age during the first half of last season, when the franchise’s No. 2 home-run hitter and RBI producer behind Frank Thomas (with 415 homers, Konerko is 33 shy of Thomas’ total in a Sox uniform) hit .329 with 42 RBI. When he hit .263 with 33 RBI in the second half, some wondered if it was the beginning of the end.
“If you want to bring up the second half of last year, I’ve had way worse second halves than that in my 20s,’’ Konerko said. “So how do you rationalize that? Because that should mean any younger player should never have a month they don’t like because you’re young. But as you get older that’s the first thing somebody is going to say. It’s part of my job to deal with that.’’
On his first day as a 37-year-old, Konerko hit three sharp singles in three plate appearances in a game against Team USA. The first two came against Derek Holland, the third on a 1-2 count against Tim Collins to drive in a run. He’s hitting .368 this spring, so there ya’ go.
“Listen, as you get older there are certain things you have to adjust to here and there. Sometimes you think you don’t have it, or have that anymore, and then all of a sudden you hit a ball or you get to a ball in the field. It’s still there, it’s just a matter of repeating it day in and out. That’s the biggest struggle in the big leagues, the day-in and day-out playing.’’
If getting hit by a Jeff Samardzija pitch in the eye in May, taking an elbow to the head from Jarrod Dyson and suffering a concussion in August and sporadically dealing with a floating chip in his wrist (that was removed after the season ended) affected Konerko’s battle with the daily baseball grind, you won’t hear it from him. Suffice it to say those things did happen.
Konerko says he feels the same as he has the last few springs. That’s good, because the Sox need a typical Konerko year and expect one.
“There’s no reason to think otherwise,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said. “If anything, given that his wrist won’t be a consistent issue there’s probably a little more reason for optimism at this point. But, you know, as guys get older the production traditionally slows. And at some point that happens to every player. Given his diligence and work ethic and how much he wants to succeed and win, it’s fair to expect similar production this coming year. Knock on wood there’s no injury issue. There’s no pressure. And I think he’s really enjoying where he is right now in his career.’’
Enjoying it means everything, and it’s something Konerko will gauge in the final year of his current contract. This could be his last on the Sox and it’s not out of the question it might be his last, period. Even he performs well.
“That’s something I have to keep an eye on because that influences what I want to do in my future, regardless of what the numbers are,’’ Konerko said. “The numbers can be great but if I don’t enjoy it [I] have to respect the game. If you don’t want to show up and do the work, then you gotta go home.’’
WHITE SOX 4, TEAM USA 4
FOR THE RECORD: There’s no tying in baseball — unless it’s spring training and you’re the White Sox (5-3-3), who played to a draw for the third time this spring. The Sox led 4-2 before Giancarlo Stanton doubled in two runs against prospect Scott Snodgress in the eighth inning. Facing the Americans’ World Baseball Classic lineup that included Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips, Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer, David Wright, Stanton, Adam Jones and Ben Zobrist, Gavin Floyd pitched 22/3 scoreless innings in his first outing. Hector Santiago threw 11/3 scoreless innings, and Matt Thornton, Nate Jones and Dylan Axelrod (one inning each) didn’t give up a run. Axelrod, who might not fit on the Opening Day roster, has allowed no runs, two hits and no walks in six innings. “Today was different because you’re going against an All-Star team, really,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. “A lot of good pitchers out there today. It intensifies the juices and gets them going.’’
37 CANDLES, 3 HITS: Paul Konerko went 3-for-3 with an RBI single and a run on his 37th birthday. Gordon Beckham turned the same trick, going 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run. Dewayne Wise, who’s 5-for-17 with a homer, triple and double this spring, had two hits. Dayan Viciedo doubled, and Alexei Ramirez had two hits. Conor Gillaspie got a look at first base and punched out another hit. He’s 6-for-17.
ON DECK: Except for left-hander Chris Sale, who’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session, most of the Sox will enjoy a day off. They play the Cubs on Thursday. Lefty Jose Quintana, making his second start, will face Carlos Villanueva.
Daryl Van Schouwen