That's misleading, and possibly precious: Konerko loved playing baseball, and retiring must be tough. Last night's pre-game festivities for Paul Konerko Day were a predictable blend of warmth and boredom: Sox television announcer Hawk Harrelson held forth, gently mocking Konerko while setting up video board clips of his greatest achievements; Jerry Reinsdorf spoke well of The Captain, and presented him with his World Series grand slam ball pried loose from the guy (Chris Claeys) who caught it. That was a nice moment. But generally the video tributes from teammates, ex-teammates, and players around the league and across the decade were full of dull platitudes and corny jokes, and were marred by surprisingly sub-par sound at The Cell. Konerko spoke, of course, looking like he willed himself up to that microphone as he willed himself through a particularly brutal slump: this is my job. With class, he thanked all responsible for the ceremony and congratulated the Kansas City Royals on their successes. Then, smiling and gesturing broadly to the crowd of 38,160, he said, "I don't want to say fans, I want to say friends." That seemed genuine sentiment, not sentimentality, issuing from a graciousness and humility that many who personally know Konerko speak of. Later during the game, my friends and I walked the outfield concourse to check out the new Konerko statue, facing the bronze likeness of Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas. Alas, the crowd was too thick for me to get close, but the photos I did take speak volumes, I think, for the love and affection that this city has for Konerko.
As for the game—oh yeah, the game—the Sox won, 5-4, forestalling the Royals' unlikely, and terrifically exciting, grab for a first place tie in the American League Central Division. John Danks pitched well, Jose Abreu hit another monster home run. Konerko came to bat three times. In his last AB before manager Robin Ventura pulled him to yet another standing ovation, Konerko struck out looking, twirled on his back foot in a kind of Drat, fooled again dance, and sulked back to the dug out.
Perfect. It's a hard game. Thanks for gutting it out for so long and giving us so much pleasure watching you play. See you, Paulie.
|An era ending.|
|The Captain's number.|
|9:04 pm. Last At Bat on Paul Konerko Day|
Post-season update: in a fitting farewell to a career played out of the limelight, Konerko was named, with Jimmy Rollins, as co-winner of the 2014 Roberto Clemente Award, recognition for "players who best represent the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement."