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updated: 3/31/2014 5:41 AM

Sox' Konerko ready for his final big-league go-round

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  • The White Sox' Paul Konerko (14) is congratulated by Conor Gillaspie (12) and Dayan Viciedo (24) after hitting a 2-run home run against the Seattle Mariners last week in Arizona.

      The White Sox' Paul Konerko (14) is congratulated by Conor Gillaspie (12) and Dayan Viciedo (24) after hitting a 2-run home run against the Seattle Mariners last week in Arizona.
    Associated Press

 
 

Paul Konerko has been with the White Sox since 1999 and, as he prepares for his 16th and final season on the South Side, he knows what to expect from the fan base.

"I think we have people that are loyal to us," Konerko said Sunday after the Sox worked out at U.S. Cellular Field in preparation for Monday's season opener against the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field. "Tough, they know the game. They are tough on you. Tough on the team.

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"But they are there for you the whole time through. I know it hasn't been good the whole way, but I see a lot of the same faces as when I first showed up here."

Konerko is likely aware that White Sox fans can be a divided breed.

Let's take the opener for example.

As of early Sunday afternoon, roughly 3,000 tickets still were available for Monday's game against Minnesota.

Most of the fans in the stands are likely to stand and cheer when Konerko is introduced, but there is still a sizable overall faction that believes the 38-year-old captain should not be on the roster this year.

Many Sox fans would rather see a younger player such as Jordan Danks, Micah Johnson or Matt Davidson instead of the Konerko farewell tour.

On the other side, many White Sox fans think Konerko deserves the chance to go out with a much better taste in his mouth after he batted .244 with career lows in home runs (12) and RBI (54) last season.

The debate figures to wage on over the next six months, and there already is some controversy involving Konerko. With right-hander Ricky Nolasco starting for Minnesota in the opener, the right-handed hitting Konerko is going to be on the bench and left-hander Adam Dunn is going to be the White Sox' starting designated hitter.

"I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but I think (Konerko) should be out there," said Chris Sale, who starts the opener for the Sox. "I think with what he's done for this city, what he's done for this team, who he's been throughout his entire career, I think he's kind of earned that."

Being a distractive sideshow in his final season is the last thing Konerko wants. He probably could have pushed manager Robin Ventura to put him in the starting lineup for his 16th straight opening-day start for the White Sox, but that's not his style.

"I knew that Robin was thinking about it a couple of days ago," Konerko said. "I think probably a few days ago I was playing. When I signed up to do this, I factored everything in. If I wanted to play this year and start on Opening Day, I should have played better last year to make it a nonissue. It's just simple to me.

"There is a plan of roles and when guys play and when they don't play. You just follow it. This game tomorrow, although it's Opening Day, if I'm not going to start the 20th game against Ricky Nolasco, or whoever is on the mound, then it doesn't matter that it's the first game."

Unless Dunn goes down with an injury or performs well enough to get himself traded later in the season, Konerko is expected to be the starting DH against left-handers. He also is likely to be a frequent pinch hitter.

It's a new role, but one Konerko is embracing.

"My job is to be ready," said Konerko, who ranks second in White Sox history in home runs (427), RBI (1,361) and games played (2,187). "Every time I'm going to be on that field I want to be helping anybody I can just like any other year. I should have more time to do that whether it's on-the-field stuff, off-the-field stuff, I want to be there to help my teammates as much as I can, and everybody else in that room does, too.

"As far as playing, it's just to be ready for Robin. If I come in tomorrow and say there's a change tomorrow, I'll be ready. My goal is to have him never being able to catch me off guard. And when I'm actually out there, bust your (behind) and leave it out there every at-bat, every pitch."

sgregor@dailyherald.com

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