GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Chicago White Sox are trending younger. He's not.
Paul Konerko can see where this is headed, which is why a fantastical story about him loving this new hybrid role of designated hitter/first baseman/pinch-hitter, and being really good at it, and reconsidering retirement, and continuing with the White Sox or traipsing around the league chasing cool jobs in new cities draws from him a raised eyebrow.
"I'll stop you there," he says.
Konerko will be 38 next week. Other than what amounts to a half-season of games most of a career ago, he is a White Sox lifer. Maybe, hidden in the Derek Jeter clatter, you missed that Konerko will retire at the end of this season. This is it. The beloved Paulie will take one more lap, go home, raise the kids, work on that Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar riff that's eluding him, and leave the game to the next generation.
But, you know, what if? He likes the gig. The gig likes him. His body comes back whole, and he hits. All that good stuff he does in the clubhouse? If not the White Sox's, there are a lot of clubhouses in the world. What if there are still hits to be had, championships to be won? What if he can see 500 career home runs from there?
Jason Giambi's pushed his career out another three or four years, and he's not done yet. The Jim Thome job. The Matt Stairs thing. It's a living, you know? It's baseball when you still can, assuming you still can.
He raises his hand. Just stop.
"I'm not doing it again," he says.
See, there are two available jobs on the White Sox as they relate to the big fellas – first base and DH. There are three men – Jose Abreu, Adam Dunn and Konerko – for them. Abreu will play, probably first base, if he takes to it. Maybe that means a platoon at DH. Maybe Konerko gives somebody a day off at first. Maybe he hits .244 and slugs .355, like he did last year when his sore back wouldn't allow much more, and a few at-bats a week will have to do.
The White Sox are sorting that out, and will for the next several weeks. Abreu played some first base during an intrasquad game Tuesday, and manager Robin Ventura thought he looked just fine. Konerko had two hits and, with a laugh after the second, summoned his own pinch-runner. There are no heroes in February. Not amongst the 37-year-olds, anyway.
Whatever comes, it seems Konerko will be good by it. He's been just that guy forever – solid, strong, authoritative. And their Paulie.
Konerko wasn't going to drag last season into retirement. He'd struggled and the White Sox lost 99 games. An optimistic sort, he signed up for one more season and $2.5 million, enough to be worth his while but not so much the White Sox couldn't keep building toward someone else's team. So he sits in front of his usual spring locker, this year between Gordon Beckham and the new kid, Adam Eaton, and says it feels good to feel good again, and he occasionally thinks, "Welp, never gonna do that again," but gets through the grind the same way.
"So far," he says, "I kind of like it. And knowing that this is the last time I have to do some things gets me through them."
In his 18th season, then, he'll top off his 2,297 hits, his 434 home runs, his .281 batting average (and, yeah, his 275 double plays grounded into), most of it wrapped in one of the great White Sox careers ever. They won a World Series together. They lost some. Whatever came, Konerko was out in front of it often enough, and then he'd be right back here, in spring training, to give it another shot, eager for it. That's what an organization asks of a good man and a leader, and why good-byes stink.
"It'll be time," Konerko says, like that's all there is to it.
It's him. It's the organization. So he'll do his part, whatever that brings for him or the White Sox. He won't expect to play every day, unless they ask, and then all he can do is try. Otherwise, the job description has changed, but not the man, and not his colors.
"That [veteran] role might exist [in the future], but it would be with another club," Konerko said. "I'm not doing that. I'm not going to put another uniform on. Besides, if it goes good, I couldn't think of a better way to help out."
You might think otherwise. Or wish otherwise. Just stop.
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