An adoring sellout crowd poured into U.S. Cellular Field Saturday afternoon to celebrate the retiring of White Sox great Paul Konerko’s No. 14.
Entering through an opening in the center field wall, Konerko, wearing a dark suit, waved to the crowd as he walked to the infield to a stenciled “14” in the dirt behind second base. Fans chanted “Paulie! Paulie!” as he took his seat near a podium near home plate.
“I just want to thank everyone one last time,” Konerko said.
Current White Sox were seated between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. Konerko’s family, including wife Jennifer, sat on the first base side of home. On the third base side of home sat Jim Thome, Jerry Reinsdorf, Ken Williams, Rick Hahn, Robin Ventura and Ozzie Guillen. Ken Harrelson was the master of ceremonies.
“Teammate, captain, competitor and friend. That’s what made this man a role model in the city of Chicago,” Thome said.
Konerko, one of the most popular and respected White Sox of all-time, retired after the 2014 season, his 18th in the majors and 16th with the Sox after an 18-year career (16 with the Sox). He is the 10th White Sox to have his number retired, joining Nellie Fox (2), Harold Baines (3), Luke Appling (4), Minnie Minoso (9), Luis Aparicio (11), Ted Lyons (16), Billy Pierce (19), Frank Thomas (35) and Carlton Fisk (72) in that exclusive club.Guillen, one of three Sox managers Konerko played for along with Jerry Manuel and Ventura, told reporters before the game “the reason I am who I am is because of No. 14. That guy he was outstanding, he make everybody around him play better. He made everybody around him be better.”There were video tributes and an unveiling of the number on the facade behind home plate, Konerko’s situated in the center between Aparicio’s and Lyons’. Konerko thanked his managers, teammates, hitting coaches Greg Walker and Mike Gellinger, family and the fans.“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.Before the Sox played the Twins, Konerko took off his suitcoat to throw out a ceremonial first pitch to White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham.On a picture-perfect afternoon for baseball, standing-room-only seats were selling for $75 at ticket windows, and parking lots were filling up early as tailgaters created an Opening Day or playoff-like atmosphere outside the ballpark. The first 20,000 were received Konerko replica statues.
“Paul can bring them in,” Ventura said Saturday. “It’s a fun day for us.”
“You don’t really think that that’s something that’s attainable,” Konerko said of the honor Friday. “Even when you’re playing, I mean, you just don’t think that’s you. You don’t think that is something you can get to.”
Ventura said it was appropriate and deserving that Konerko, seven months removed from his last game, did not have to wait long for this. Knowing Konerko, who never wanted the attention or limelight that came with being a star, Ventura said he was looking forward to seeing him squirm a little.
“You should celebrate somebody like Paulie, even though he’s probably hating most of it,” Ventura said. “That part will be entertaining to watch, just his reactions. Even though it’s nice, he understands it, he’s humbled by it, but it will definitely make him very uncomfortable.”
The ceremony lasted for about 40 minutes. The game against the Twins, scheduled for a 3:10 star, got under way at 3:40. Chris Sale struck out two Twins in a perfect inning.
“As hard as this game is, I’m happy for him,” Conor Gillaspie said Saturday. “I loved playing with him and I’m going to remember him as one of the guys, who, when I first got over here was there for me.
“It’s pretty cool. It obviously disrupts the game a little bit but we all owe it to him to give him that time.”