Konerko ‘not afraid’ of future after baseball, Sox

Paul Konerko doesn’t need any reminders that his days as a big

leaguer are dwindling – quickly.

His body has plenty of baseball mileage, making it much harder

to get through a full season without injury. And so, as he readies

himself for his 15th season with the White Sox, the thought that

this could be his last playing on Chicago’s South Side, and

possibly his final season in the majors, has crossed his mind more

than once.

He has visualized retirement, considered life’s next

chapter.

”You have to,” he said. ”What’s the option? It’s going to

happen.”

It’s just a matter of when for Konerko.

Before joining his teammates in their first full-squad workout,

Konerko, who will turn 37 on March 5, spent part of Sunday at the

team’s Camelback Ranch complex discussing what lies ahead for him.

As a few teammates strolled past on a pebble path toward outdoor

batting cages, Konerko described how his career has come full

circle.

In a clubhouse that has undergone major changes in the past few

years, he’s the ”old guy” on the White Sox.

”I don’t feel like it,” he said, ”but I’m told I’m

that.”

While others wonder how much longer he’ll play, Konerko said he

hasn’t made any decisions beyond 2013. He’s living in the moment,

following the day-to-day mantra that may come across as cliche to

outsiders but is very real to an athlete still trying to perform at

a high level while fighting off the inevitable aging process.

He’s the lone remaining player from the White Sox team that won

the 2005 World Series, and Konerko knows that he, too, will one day

be gone.

”I come in contact with more people that played and are out of

the game than the other way around with the exception of when I’m

here,” he said. ”The guys I played with, all my tight friends I

played with coming up, are all out of the game so I see what the

other side is and there’s plusses and minuses to that. I pick their

brains on it. It’s going to happen at some point, it does to every

player.

”I’m not afraid of that. I’m not sacred of it. I just want to

go as hard as I can until it happens.”

That’s what he did last season, playing with a wrist injury that

required surgery to remove a bone chip that would lodge into his

joint. Konerko hit .298 with 26 homers and 75 RBIs, but his numbers

dropped dramatically in the second half. The White Sox led the AL

Central for 117 days and went 85-77, winding up three games behind

first-place Detroit.

Konerko has been faced with the possibility of leaving before.

He twice filed for free agency before electing to re-sign with the

White Sox.

”The whole exercise of going through the last year of the White

Sox, the last year of your career and all that, I’ve already kind

of done that before,” he said. ”This is just dusting off those

feelings and thoughts and just getting back to what I was thinking

three years ago because three years ago I was prepared for anything

then, the end of my career, the end of me playing for the White

Sox. I went through all of that three years ago, so to do it again

is really not that big of a deal.”

What’s different this time is that he’s much closer to the

end.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura was 37 when he retired as a

player at the end of the 2004 season. He said Konerko faces a

challenge in not allowing thought of his future cloud what he’s

trying to accomplish.

”You get a limited amount of time to play,” said Ventura,

starting his second season as Chicago’s skipper. ”In some ways,

he’s earned the right to be able to not know if he’s going to

continue or not. It can be a distraction if you focus more on that

than you do the playing. He’s pretty good on focusing on a lot of

different things and continuing to go, so I don’t see that being an

issue.”

Konerko, who hit more than 20 homers for the 13th time in his

career last season, has the unquestioned respect of his teammates.

He’s the team’s captain, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the

target of some good-natured ribbing about the changing color of his

goatee.

”Any time you see a guy with a gray beard, you assume that

they’re old,” DH Adam Dunn said. ”I don’t know how old Paul is,

but he’s old, for sure.”

Konerko enters the season needing 34 homers to pass Frank

Thomas’ club mark. Konerko said the chance to move his name higher

in the record book is not a motivating factor to keep playing.

Once he’s through, Konerko plans to get away from the game.

”I’d like to do something totally disconnected from this

world,” he said.

For now, he’s embracing perhaps his last spring training. He’s

talked to many retired players who tell him how much they miss the

plane and bus trips, playing cards in the clubhouse, just being one

of the guys.

”You get older and you kind of get down about some things now

and again, but I try to spin it and say, hey, to have that

situation exist means I had to have gotten here through all the

years,” he said. ”That’s a cool thing.

”You want to experience as much as you can and part of the

experience of being a baseball player is to be in a clubhouse and

be called old, and you have to find some weird way to enjoy

that.”

Notes: Ventura reported that LHP John Danks ”is fine and

everything is on schedule” as he comes back after shoulder

surgery. Danks made just nine starts in 2012 after signing a $65

million, five-year contract. … Ventura was pleased to hear Dunn

wants to be more aggressive at the plate, hoping to avoid getting

behind in counts. ”Athletically, he has the ability to expand the

(strike) zone a little bit,” Ventura said.