Konerko 'not afraid' of future after baseball, Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)
Paul Konerko doesn't need any reminders that his days as a big leaguer are dwindling - quickly.
His body has plenty of baseball mileage, making it much harder to get through a full season without injury. And so, as he readies himself for his 15th season with the White Sox, the thought that this could be his last playing on Chicago's South Side, and possibly his final season in the majors, has crossed his mind more than once.
He has visualized retirement, considered life's next chapter.
''You have to,'' he said. ''What's the option? It's going to happen.''
It's just a matter of when for Konerko.
Before joining his teammates in their first full-squad workout, Konerko, who will turn 37 on March 5, spent part of Sunday at the team's Camelback Ranch complex discussing what lies ahead for him. As a few teammates strolled past on a pebble path toward outdoor batting cages, Konerko described how his career has come full circle.
In a clubhouse that has undergone major changes in the past few years, he's the ''old guy'' on the White Sox.
''I don't feel like it,'' he said, ''but I'm told I'm that.''
While others wonder how much longer he'll play, Konerko said he hasn't made any decisions beyond 2013. He's living in the moment, following the day-to-day mantra that may come across as cliche to outsiders but is very real to an athlete still trying to perform at a high level while fighting off the inevitable aging process.
He's the lone remaining player from the White Sox team that won the 2005 World Series, and Konerko knows that he, too, will one day be gone.
''I come in contact with more people that played and are out of the game than the other way around with the exception of when I'm here,'' he said. ''The guys I played with, all my tight friends I played with coming up, are all out of the game so I see what the other side is and there's plusses and minuses to that. I pick their brains on it. It's going to happen at some point, it does to every player.
''I'm not afraid of that. I'm not sacred of it. I just want to go as hard as I can until it happens.''
That's what he did last season, playing with a wrist injury that required surgery to remove a bone chip that would lodge into his joint. Konerko hit .298 with 26 homers and 75 RBIs, but his numbers dropped dramatically in the second half. The White Sox led the AL Central for 117 days and went 85-77, winding up three games behind first-place Detroit.
Konerko has been faced with the possibility of leaving before. He twice filed for free agency before electing to re-sign with the White Sox.
''The whole exercise of going through the last year of the White Sox, the last year of your career and all that, I've already kind of done that before,'' he said. ''This is just dusting off those feelings and thoughts and just getting back to what I was thinking three years ago because three years ago I was prepared for anything then, the end of my career, the end of me playing for the White Sox. I went through all of that three years ago, so to do it again is really not that big of a deal.''
What's different this time is that he's much closer to the end.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura was 37 when he retired as a player at the end of the 2004 season. He said Konerko faces a challenge in not allowing thought of his future cloud what he's trying to accomplish.
''You get a limited amount of time to play,'' said Ventura, starting his second season as Chicago's skipper. ''In some ways, he's earned the right to be able to not know if he's going to continue or not. It can be a distraction if you focus more on that than you do the playing. He's pretty good on focusing on a lot of different things and continuing to go, so I don't see that being an issue.''
Konerko, who hit more than 20 homers for the 13th time in his career last season, has the unquestioned respect of his teammates. He's the team's captain, but that doesn't mean he can't be the target of some good-natured ribbing about the changing color of his goatee.
''Any time you see a guy with a gray beard, you assume that they're old,'' DH Adam Dunn said. ''I don't know how old Paul is, but he's old, for sure.''
Konerko enters the season needing 34 homers to pass Frank Thomas' club mark. Konerko said the chance to move his name higher in the record book is not a motivating factor to keep playing.
Once he's through, Konerko plans to get away from the game.
''I'd like to do something totally disconnected from this world,'' he said.
For now, he's embracing perhaps his last spring training. He's talked to many retired players who tell him how much they miss the plane and bus trips, playing cards in the clubhouse, just being one of the guys.
''You get older and you kind of get down about some things now and again, but I try to spin it and say, hey, to have that situation exist means I had to have gotten here through all the years,'' he said. ''That's a cool thing.
''You want to experience as much as you can and part of the experience of being a baseball player is to be in a clubhouse and be called old, and you have to find some weird way to enjoy that.''
Notes: Ventura reported that LHP John Danks ''is fine and everything is on schedule'' as he comes back after shoulder surgery. Danks made just nine starts in 2012 after signing a $65 million, five-year contract. ... Ventura was pleased to hear Dunn wants to be more aggressive at the plate, hoping to avoid getting behind in counts. ''Athletically, he has the ability to expand the (strike) zone a little bit,'' Ventura said.