Ken Harrelson’s fan club has no greater booster than White Sox great Paul Konerko, who is already dealing with a mild case of the butterflies as he looks forward to being paired with the iconic broadcaster when the Sox host the Royals on Aug. 19.
Harrelson has seven games remaining in his 33rd and final season as a Sox broadcaster, including one with A.J. Pierzynski on Hawk Day on Sept. 2 and another with Konerko.
“It might be the only game I ever hoped would go extra innings,” Konerko said.
Konerko, who considers the Lee Elia rant one of the great moments in baseball history, always embraced the colorful characters in the clubhouse, dugouts and press boxes who made the game fun, amusing and entertaining, and Harrelson was at the top of his list.
“I couldn’t imagine playing here without everything he’s got,’’ Konerko said.
“Almost on a daily basis there was conversation about Hawk. On that left-field line, stretching, or sitting in the dugout during a game. ‘I wonder what Hawk said about that one?’ So yeah, it’s kind of an end of an era, a big long era. I don’t think guys are going to get to do it as long as he’s done it, and I don’t think guys will be allowed to be like he is anymore, right? So definitely special.
“To anybody who has done something that long, I don’t care if it’s a writer, coach, whatever, you start talking 40, 50, 60 years of doing a thing, being in the game, that could almost trump anything when you’ve got that type of longevity.’’
Konerko made it clear he wants to work all nine innings because he wants as much time as he can get with Harrelson. It worked out great because he has tickets for a Pearl Jam concert the day before. When he heads back home to Arizona in a few days, he’ll start doing some preparation.
“I’m a little nervous about keeping up — I don’t want to make a train wreck out of calling the game,’’ he said.
But don’t expect him to play safe as an analyst.
“I’m not vying for a job, this is not an audition, so as long as I don’t say anything that gets me fined by the FCC, anything short of that is fine,’’ he said. “I’ll be taking no orders on what to talk about, I promise you that much.”
Between Harrelson and Konerko, there will be no shortage of stories to tell.
“My whole career with the White Sox, he was there all the time,’’ Konerko said. “Buses, planes and all that. I couldn’t imagine my career here without him.”
Konerko, who spent a good portion of his year coaching his son’s travel baseball team along with former teammate J.J. Putz, stopped in Chicago on his way home after taking his son Owen to Cooperstown, New York, over the weekend to take in the Hall of Fame induction of former teammate Jim Thome. The experience exceeded his own expectations and those of his son, who wants to go back next year.
Thome’s “genuineness” is what always will stand out for Konerko, along with Thome’s lengthy at-bats that allowed Konerko ample time to get loose in the on-deck circle in those seasons he batted behind him.
“You hear it all the time, kind of cliche, but a down-to-earth, real normal guy,’’ Konerko said. “That’s who he was. He brought everybody in all the time, wherever he went. He made everybody feel like they were part of the ride.’’