Paul Konerko was there again Monday morning, at his locker in the corner of the White Sox clubhouse.
This was the start of Konerko’s 15th Opening Day with the Sox, making him a comfortable constant for his team and its fans. And doesn’t that say a lot in a sports world that changes faster than you can blurt Brian Urlacher.
After all these years, Konerko remains an athlete easy to respect. Love his personality. Admire his play. Enjoy recalling his contributions to the Sox’ championship in 2005.
But most of all respect the class and dignity of the man inside the No. 14 uniform.
The Sox’ 1-0 victory over Kansas City in the season opener was all the more notable because it might have been the beginning of the end for Konerko.
A free agent after this season, Konerko might have embarked on a long goodbye that lasts through summer and into autumn. His future is cloudy. Nobody, including him, can be certain whether he will play beyond his current contract, or where, or for how long.
So in a rare moment of reflection the Sox’ first baseman allowed himself to say of his extended stay with the Sox, “That’s probably what I’m most proud of from a personal standpoint.”
From a team standpoint, Konerko takes pride in winning the World Series. As an individual, however, it’s his longevity on the South Side.
“Every statistic I have, somebody else has done that,” Konerko said. “But I have pride in (being with the Sox for so long).”
Konerko pointed out that the list of players matching that 15-year stat is smaller compared to the list of, say, hitters with 400 home runs. At the moment his is the fourth longest tenure with one team in the major leagues.
Another number — zero — should please Konerko and Sox fans and everybody associated with baseball even more. During his nearly two decades in professional baseball, he has been involved in zero scandals inside or outside the game.
No drunken driving, no failed drug test, no domestic battery, no firearms violations, no barroom brawls, no clubhouse altercations with the media, no anything of the sort.
The days are long gone when the public could presume that an athlete would keep his record clean, especially in an era of camera phones and paparazzi. To do so for 15 years in one place, well, that’s a record that deserves to be shouted from Chicago’s highest steeple.
“I’m not interested in a big expose on myself,” Konerko said politely. “I’m interested in coming in and doing it as right as I can. One day at a time, one pitch at a time, that’s a cliché, but it’s the goal.”
The words become a cliché only if they are merely that … words. Konerko developed them into a steadfast strategy.
“Paulie, to me, is just the model of consistency,” Sox pitcher Jake Peavy said from the next locker. “He takes every day the same, very regimented. He goes about the day in a professional manner. Everybody else (in the clubhouse) sees it. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, guys listen.”
That’s how it has been since 1999 with the Sox. Konerko is a leader by example until something needs to be said, and then he says it.
But that’s all just baseball stuff. The other side is what’s really impressive, the person side where an athlete’s behavior makes him welcome in one place for going on 15 seasons.
After the Sox’ opening victory, Konerko was back at his locker where he has belonged in a way that seems forever.
No one knows for how much longer forever will be, however, so appreciate Paul Konerko while you can.
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