My dad's law firm's season tickets are behind first base, so I first became aware of Paul Konerko just by staring at the back of his uniform. There was something very pleasing about his last name, the way it begins and ends with "ko." Being that type of girly sports fan, I became intrigued by the fact that he was only a few years older than I was, and decided he was attractive, not in the devastating pretty boy way some athletes are, or in that overpowering masculine way some others are. He was cute because he looked like a nice, normal guy I might have gone to school with.
But I don't typically like players who are just cute. It turned out that Konerko was fun to watch, too. He was a home run hitter, which always makes for excitement, but beyond that, I started noticing other qualities about him. In post-game interviews he was mild-mannered and polite: not shy, but not flashy, either. He answered questions matter-of-factly and never seemed peevish or boastful. I'm also one of those people whose love of a player grows exponentially if he seems like a Good Guy, so of course that basically put Konerko on a pedestal for me--a wobbly one, because to get attached to athletes means to live in a perpetual state of getting ready for them to fall from grace--a scandal, a profanity, something. A friend of mine who is a sports reporter has told me that he personally spends time with each member of the team, mentoring them, and amazingly, in the nearly 20 years since Konerko's been on the team, I've never heard a bad word about him, confirming that at least in the clubhouse he is the good guy I wanted him to be.
I was furious when the 2002 All-Star game ended in a tie, because I was convinced that Konerko would have been named the MVP. I actually got to meet him on the field after the break that year and I asked him some stupid question about if he thought he would have been as well, and he said "I don't know," quietly (I still don't know to this day what would have been a better question to ask, aside from "Why are you so awesome?") I almost missed his 2005 grand slam in Game 2 of the World Series because I was on a stupid business trip in St. Louis. I was so happy for him--his first child was born that same week. He called the slam the "second-best feeling of the week," which only made it all the more heart-melting.
I was ready to lose Paul after the World Series but was delighted to learn that he'd turned down a bunch of money to stay with the team. I would have understood if he'd followed the cash or another hungry franchise but was glad I didn't have to temper my feelings for him or endure seeing him in another uniform.
I'll be honest; I haven't been as diligent a fan, at least in attendance, since the season after the World Series, but my dedication to PK stayed true. My husband will tell you we named our son Paul after his grandfather, but that's just his side of it. I picked the name Paul because of so many stand-up, talented Pauls in the world, with #14 being at the top of that list. Not to be cheesy, but if our son could care about his work, stay humble, be grateful, be kind just a portion of Konerko has projected throughout his career, I would be a proud mother. The White Sox lost the night our son was born on August 17, 2012, but Paul Konerko hit a home run.
It's typical of me as a White Sox fan to be slightly put out that Derek Jeter is getting all the attention this week, but I get it. It's Derek Jeter. He deserves it. It's the White Sox. They're not the Yankees. It's fine. Konerko's retirement is not exactly going unnoticed. I know I'm not saying anything insightful about his career or numbers or really anything else that hasn't been said more articulately in other sports reporting venues. But I wanted to write about it just to put his name out there one more time.
I hope Konerko can feel the appreciation and gratitude the city has for him as he moves into this next phase of his career, not just for his play but for always making us proud. I hope he can find fulfillment in retirement, and can utilize his mentorship and workmanship. I hope he stays as classy in retirement as he did when he was playing.
Thanks to Paul Konerko for making all those games more fun to watch and for being such a great leader for my team.