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updated: 3/16/2014 7:54 PM

Konerko embracing new role with White Sox

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  • White Sox veteran Paul Konerko, left, is doing all he can this spring to help younger players such as first baseman Jose Abreu.

      White Sox veteran Paul Konerko, left, is doing all he can this spring to help younger players such as first baseman Jose Abreu.
    Associated Press

 
 

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Adam Eaton might have the best seat in the Cactus League.

Every day, the White Sox' 25-year-old center fielder gets to stroll into the clubhouse and plop down next to Paul Konerko, who occupies the neighboring locker.

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"I'm like a sponge," Eaton said. "And he's been really accommodating, both with me and my family. It means a lot."

In recent springs, Konerko admittedly was more focused on getting himself ready for the upcoming season than constantly being accessible to his younger teammates.

But that has changed. As the Sox' 38-year-old captain readies for his 16th and final season on the South Side, Konerko is easing into his new role as de facto player/coach.

"With spring training, there aren't any defined roles down here," he said. "You play one day and the next day you're off, so you can't sink your teeth into anything yet. But having said that, there have definitely been moments, in the cage, the food room, where maybe you take into account more someone else's situation. You try to talk to them and see what they're feeling."

When Konerko broke into the major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997, he leaned on veteran teammates such as Eric Karros and Todd Zeile. When he joined the Sox in 1999, Cal Eldred and James Baldwin helped Konerko to continue growing into a productive player.

Now, Konerko is giving back.

"With the stature and the service time he has, anything he says I listen to," said 23-year-old infielder Marcus Semien. "I want to learn how he did it, how he's been successful at it for so long. I always ask him what pitchers I've never seen have because he's faced a lot of guys in this league

" I'm trying to make it this year and I don't know many of the pitchers, so I try to get any advice I can from him."

Konerko has been helping out wherever he can, and he enjoys dropping advice to whoever is in need.

"I've had a lot of really good conversations," Konerko said. "I don't know if it's because of my role changing or just because of how many young guys we have, but I've been asked a lot more questions this spring.

"I've definitely had more conversations with guys, not all of them are serious, but just like talking hitting or talking about traveling, anything that relates to the life, I guess, being in the big leagues.

"It's nice to try and pass that on because I was in their shoes at one point. I've had some guys look out for me, so I'm just trying to look out for them the right way."

Konerko was right about the White Sox being young, and his years of experience in the game should come in handy whenever the waters become choppy this season.

"He's still an extremely talented player," said 28-year-old catcher Tyler Flowers. "And the knowledge he has through baseball experiences and life experiences, you can't really put a value on that, especially with a younger-based team.

"Someone like that, in conjunction with Dunner (Adam Dunn), (Matt) Lindstrom and some of the older guys we have, I think it's going to be great. I think it's going to help all of the younger guys stay banded together."

While mentoring younger teammates is now in his job description, Konerko still is looking to do some offensive damage after batting .244 with 12 home runs and 54 RBI last year while battling lower-back soreness.

"I'm feeling pretty good," said Konerko, who drove in 3 runs with a bases-loaded double in Sunday's Cactus League loss to the Rangers. "I'm just now kind of getting over that initial soreness; I think it lasts a little longer every year.

"Work's been good, batting practice has been good, I feel like I'm going to get to where I want to get to in the next couple of weeks here.

"I'm just trying to have an idea of my routines when I don't play. That will all be new to me, so there will be some learning on the job with that. But at the end of the day it's baseball. I've been doing this for a while. Get in there, try to get a good pitch to hit, and let it fly."

sgregor@dailyherald.com

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