Konerko just keeps getting better
Even after going 1-for-4 in Friday night's victory over Cleveland, Paul Konerko still leads the American League with his .381 average.
When it comes discussing individual achievement, you've got to be very careful with Paul Konerko.
Last season Konerko snapped at a reporter who asked him if winning the American League MVP was possible.
"I'm not even answering any questions about that stuff," Konerko said. "I mean, that's ridiculous. Sorry."
The question was asked in late June.
Fast forward to this season, and it's late May.
After going 1-for-4 in Friday night's 9-3 victory over Cleveland at U.S. Cellular Field, Konerko still is leading the American League with a .381 average. The Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton is second at .378.
Having known Konerko since he arrived on the South Side in 1999, I was able to safely ask him if winning a battle title has ever been a goal.
"No," he said.
Are you even aware you're leading the league in hitting?
"I think the bottom line is, when it comes to the numbers like average and all that, I'm not quite sure it ever matters," Konerko said. "And if it does, it matters upon the completion of the year when you're looking back on it. It certainly doesn't matter in May.
"I think I've been fortunate. The key a lot of times is if you are able to pick up some hits when you don't feel good, and I've been lucky to do that."
Maybe Konerko has been lucky with a few squibs here and there, like his bloop single against the Indians in the fourth inning that extended his hit streak to 11 games.
But there is no doubting Konerko's overall offensive skill.
"His work ethic and his past definitely are evident when he goes to the plate," said White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto. "He's done some great things the past seven or eight years. He's done some great things this year.
"I'm not surprised at all. How he talks, how he studies other pitchers, his preparation is second to none. It's a really good thing for a really good guy."
Konerko has never paid attention to his personal statistics. He's too busy getting ready for the next at-bat, and the one after that.
While he hates talking about himself, Konerko does like to expound on the craft of hitting.
"There are two scenarios," he said. "One is you have the feeling you want up there. You feel real good about it. The other scenario is you don't have the feeling you want. But in either case you come in grinding to keep it, or you come in grinding to get it. Either way, you're working."
Konerko probably is working harder at 36 than he did a decade ago. Combined with his experience and knowledge, the Sox' longtime captain is showing no signs of slowing down.
"The thing is, he's a cerebral guy," Manto said. "He studies these guys. He knows these guys. He's getting better because of the knowledge he has not only of himself but of the league."
While he can still turn on a fastball and hit it over the left-field fence with the best of them, Konerko also has been piling up hits to the opposite (right) field.
"He takes what the pitcher gives him," Manto said. "I know it's one of the oldest clichés in hitting, take what they give you. But he does that. He does that probably the best in the league. He doesn't try to force the issue.
"Sometimes he knows when he gets a basehit, he'll came back and say 'That wasn't enough. I should have tried to drive the ball.' That's how good he really is."
Robin Ventura has encountered plenty of hurdles during his first two months managing the White Sox. With Konerko, he just sits back in the dugout and enjoys the show.
"He's been doing great," Ventura said. "You just kind of leave him alone. It is amazing with the career that he's already had, to be doing what he's doing now is pretty special. He's one you kind of, like a wine, just leave it alone and watch it."
Others can watch the leaderboards this season. As always, Konerko will be preoccupied with the daily grind.
"I try not to let the results sway my thinking," Konerko said. "You're either trying to get the feeling you want or you have the feeling you want and you're working to keep it.
"Either way, you're working. It's never ending until the season ends, until it's over."
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