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Paul Konerko’s final task: Keep White Sox out of early hole

Updated: February 20, 2014 9:05PM



GLENDALE, Ariz. — Paul Konerko can only hope that his last year is nothing like last year.

“Last year was a tough year for everybody,’’ Konerko said Thursday of the Sox’ 63-99 season. “A lot of guys had tough individual years, but overall the whole team was in the worst situation I’ve been in in the minor leagues or major leagues since I started playing professionally.’’

In his role as a part-time player and full-time counselor and consultant for teammates, Konerko said it’s on him to keep the team from returning to that deep, dark place.

“That’s the No. 1 thing for me is doing everything I can day in and day out to make sure the team, everybody, stays on track, where we just can’t go to where we went to last year,’’ he said. “You’re going to have bad years. . . . It was one of those situations where it was nobody’s fault and everybody’s fault. There were no problems or anything like that, but the early part of the season, we just went to a place that there was no coming back from mentally.’’

Konerko was the center of attention at his final first full-squad workout of spring training. Whereas most players showed up at least a day early, there was no need for Konerko, who turns 38 on March 5, to get extra work. Forty days in the Arizona sun will be enough.

“I’ve been here about a half-hour, hour, and there will probably be some moments where you’re a little bit sad about something you’re not going to get to do again, but spring training is not going to be one of them,’’ he said.

Much has been made of Konerko’s role as a mentor. He took a substantial pay cut (his salary is $2.5 million this season) to basically be the designated hitter against left-handers and spell Jose Abreu at first base. It’s night-and-day different from being an every-day player.

“That’s something that’s made over time. [I’m] 20 years into this professionally,’’ said Konerko, the Sox’ No. 2 home-run hitter and RBI guy of all time. “That’s something that just doesn’t happen overnight. The main thing goes back to when you make the decision to come back, is accepting the role that you’re in and knowing I’m going to put no less energy into what I’m going to do this year than I would any other year. The job description is a little different. Just knowing what the job description is, there are going to be some times when the most important thing to do [won’t be] to play and drive in guys. It’s going to be to kind of rally the troops for a bit and get them up and going for a game.

“It’s not real yet, maybe that last week or two. I don’t know how much you can work on that.’’

During the offseason, Konerko invited center fielder Adam Eaton, 25, to his home in the Phoenix area to hit. Eaton said he has been there about a half-dozen times.

“Oh, my gosh, what doesn’t he bring to the clubhouse?’’ Eaton said. “Leadership, dedication, a guy that knows the ups and downs and ins and outs of major-league baseball, knows how to prepare, knows how to get other guys prepared. I think it’s something special, and I’m very blessed for him to come back in my first year here. I’m going to soak it up like a sponge and hopefully learn as much as I can. I wish I had more time with him, but I’m excited for the opportunity.”

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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