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updated: 4/7/2011 7:30 PM

Crowd erupts for Konerko

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  • Paul Konerko is greeted on the field by teammates during player introductions at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday.

      Paul Konerko is greeted on the field by teammates during player introductions at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comPaul Konerko follows through on a swing against the Tampa Bay Rays at U.S. Cellular Field Thursday.

      JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comPaul Konerko follows through on a swing against the Tampa Bay Rays at U.S. Cellular Field Thursday.

  • JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comPaul Konerko swings against the Rays at U.S. Cellular Field Thursday.

      JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comPaul Konerko swings against the Rays at U.S. Cellular Field Thursday.

 
 

The warmest thing emanating from a frigid, foggy U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday afternoon was the embrace given by the full house to first baseman Paul Konerko during player introductions prior to the White Sox' home opener.

The long, heartfelt salute was by far the loudest given to any Sox player.

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"Opening day is always a special thing and you always remember every one of them," Konerko said "The fans were into it today."

Maybe it was their way of saluting a player who ranks second all-time in team history in home runs (358) and RBI (1,127), third in doubles (335) and slugging (.505) and fourth in OPS (.863).

Maybe it was a thank you for a 2010 season in which Konerko proved he's still an offensive force to be reckoned with after putting up some amazing numbers: a .312 batting average, 39 home runs and 111 RBI, and career highs in OPS (.977) and total bases (320). Oh, and a fifth-place finish in the voting for American League MVP to cap it off.

Maybe it was just a "thank God you're back, Paulie" reflex by fans who couldn't imagine a lineup without good ol' No. 14 at first base.

And to think, for a while there, Konerko's return to the Sox this season was in serious question with some wondering if signing a soon-to-be 35-year-old to a multi-year, mega-million dollar contract following a career year would be the smart move.

Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski knew all along it would be.

"If he's not back here next year, there's something wrong," Pierzynski said on the final day of last season when Konerko's status was in doubt. "For all he's done and what he means to this team and to the people around here, it would be very disappointing."

After making a big splash in the off-season by signing Adam Dunn, the Sox decided to go "all in" by inking their captain to a three-year, $37.5 million contract.

And so far it's looking like quite the wise move.

With his run-scoring single in the third inning Thursday, Konerko became the first player in club history to record an RBI in each of the team's first six games. It also extended his hitting streak to seven games (.393, 11-for-28) dating back to 2010.

But when it comes to raving on about his own records and results, the captain doesn't salute himself.

"I'm just grinding out there and I don't have it yet," Konerko low-keyed. "I'm just trying to play to the situation, not trying to be perfect. I found a couple of holes out there. I'm not dialed in by any means.

"We've been getting a lot of guys on base these first few games and that's a good thing when you get in those habits where you feel like when you come up with some guys on and it's not the end of the world if you don't get it done because you feel you'll get another crack at it later."

And will continue to for three more years.

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