On a ‘smart path’? That’s how Konerko sizes up the 2017 White Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Paul Konerko turned 41 on Monday. Two days later, he visited the White Sox spring training complex at Camelback Ranch and did what people of a certain age tend to do: talk about old times.
Poking around a team as young as these Sox might’ve had something to do with it, too, as the veteran of 16 seasons on the South Side recalled what it was like to form a young core with Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and others after he arrived in 1999.
“That was a fun year,” he said. “We had guys who would go out together, guys would have dinner together, because you’re all just young. It was like a college team in a lot of ways, and that’s good.”
In case it matters to anyone, let it be known that a man whose No. 14 was retired by the team in 2015 is on board with the rebuilding plan that’s only just beginning to take shape here. The 2017 Sox don’t appear to be as far along as that 1999 team was — a division title came a year later — but these things aren’t always meant to go fast.
The key to it all is for the best of the young Sox to come together in the most authentic way possible — learning on the job side-by-side, the hard way — and form something lasting.
“As they keep getting better and better, there will be things pulling them away from keeping together,” Konerko said. “The money guys are making, guys getting married and having kids, all that kind of stuff. You start to spread out. Hopefully, the idea is you build that core and they show up each day for each other because they’re built that way, and the wins are just a byproduct.”
Konerko is living the dad’s life these days, his three children skittering about. There’s getting ready for school, homework and whatever else guys forever stuck on 439 home runs do. He says he’s in the best shape of his life, lighter than he was as a player, and he looks it. Maybe the Sox could use him, but that’s not in the cards.
New team leaders must emerge. His advice?
“There are no shortcuts,” he said. “You show up every day and you work. You’re the first one here. You’re the last one out of here. You treat your teammates with respect at all times. Whether it’s in the food room, on the plane, on the bus, you try to be a good person to them.
“It just kind of evolves. You can’t fast-forward it. There are guys, I’m sure, on this team, although I don’t know the roster all that well, who probably are in the makings of being great leaders. You just can’t fast-forward time. It takes time and just, like, age.”
He likes what he sees, though, calling it a “different vibe.” If Sox fans are patient, perhaps the rewards will come.
“It looks like they’ve got a pretty good group of guys here,” Konerko said. “There’ve obviously been a lot of changes, but you can see the path they’re taking. And it’s probably a smart path. It’s the way to build (something) sustainable. Once it gets real good, then it’s probably going to be good for a while. So I’m excited to see how it’s going to play out.”
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