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For Konerko, victory lap with White Sox begins

Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Nam Y. Huh)
Chicago White Sox's Paul Konerko waves to fans after his team's 4-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals in a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Paul Konerko figures there will be emotional moments as he winds through his final season with the Chicago White Sox.

Just don't expect him to get all misty eyed for his final spring training.

The six-time All-Star made that clear Thursday as the White Sox conducted their first full squad workout, the start of a season-long victory lap for a slugger who ranks among the club's all-time leaders in homers and RBIs.

"There will probably be some moments where you're a little bit sad about something you're not going to get to do again, but spring training is not going to be one of them," Konerko said. "I think most guys feel the same way. I've never done one I actually like more than probably the next guy. The whole spring, everything that goes on, there are some fun parts, but I think most guys would rather just snap their fingers and be ready without having to do it all. You wouldn't get any complaints, so this one is not a bad one to check off."

He's back for his 16th season in Chicago and 18th in the majors after he decided to sign a one-year, $2.5 million contract rather than retire or play elsewhere, and he's hoping to end his career on a positive note after he and the team struggled in 2013.

The White Sox lost 99 games last season while finishing last in the AL Central, and Konerko barely resembled the slugger who for years anchored the lineup. He hit .244 with just 12 homers and 54 RBIs, and after a long deliberation, he ultimately decided he didn't want his career to end on such a low note.

So he returned, albeit in a more limited role.

With his 38th birthday approaching next month, he understands his days of hitting 30 homers and driving in 100 runs are over. He won't have as many chances to contribute on the field as he did in the past, given that he's part of a three-man rotation at first base and designated hitter with Jose Abreu and Adam Dunn, but there's an opportunity to make a big impact outside the lines.

He has a chance to pass the baton to Abreu, the Cuban slugger who signed in the offseason and is expected to play the most at first base, and set the tone for the other young players.

"Four years from now if this team is a good team year in and year out for that nice four to six year run before guys start leaving in free agency and getting older and all that stuff, to know I had a hand in that to help some of these guys along that will make me feel good when I'm playing golf somewhere," Konerko said.

The mentorship role is one he's taking seriously.

Konerko invited newcomer Adam Eaton to his Scottsdale house several times to hit in the batting cage, and the speedy outfielder and likely leadoff hitter was one of the players he touted on Thursday.

"I hope he's as excited as I am to work with him," Eaton said. "He's a great human being, great player, and I'm excited to learn a lot from him. I think he realizes that. I think he looks at me, he knows that I'm very interested in what he has to say, and I am because he's been there, done that and he's excelled in this game like not many people have."

Konerko will go down as one of the best and most popular players in franchise history.

His resume includes a championship in 2005 that ended the White Sox's 87-year drought along with second place on the franchise's home run and RBI lists behind Frank Thomas.

Now, as he prepares for one final go-around, Konerko isn't angling for the sort of fanfare Mariano Rivera received last season. He doesn't see himself on that level, anyway.

A farewell tour wouldn't be his style. He put that in the "con pile" as he mulled returning this season, but will savor the moments he'll experience for the final time a little more.

"Maybe I'll take it in a little more than I normally would," Konerko said. "Certainly off the field with the guys on the road and the traveling and family stuff, there's going to be more stuff that goes on than in a normal year that I'll do on my own. I'll just have to wait and see how that all plays out. I'm definitely not asking for it. I appreciate it but it's certainly not necessary."

NOTES: Manager Robin Ventura said Dunn will get some looks in left field this spring and left open the possibility of him seeing some time there during the season. "He's done it in the past where he has gone in left in interleague games but most of it is to get some work down here," Ventura said.

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