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Future uncertain, Konerko living in the present

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first day of Spring Training for Paul Konerko pretty much followed the business-as-usual model on Sunday.

A workout to start the day, a 14-minute meeting with the media and then to the batting cages to take a few swings before manager Robin Ventura's state-of-the-team address and the first full-squad workout. The only difference between the open of Konerko's 15th Spring Training with the White Sox from any of the past 14 is that this could be Konerko's last with the team.

In fact, this Spring Training could mark the veteran leader's final one as a Major League player. Life without baseball falls as a topic to which Konerko has given previous consideration, but much like the thoughts he eloquently expressed at SoxFest, there will be no decision on the matter until the end of the 2013 campaign.

"Setting a finish line, I'm not a big believer in that, because you always have a tendency to let up," said Konerko, speaking to a large group of media just a baseball's throw away from the batting cages. "When you get to be in your 30's nowadays in the Major Leagues, let alone mid-30's or late-30's, it's always on the table that your last year could be coming, because everything is coming so much younger and the rosters shows that.

"I'm aware of that. But it's something that will be talked about after the season, regardless of how the season goes. It's something I'll address when the time comes."

Konerko turns 37 on March 5 and simply put, has been one of the top players in White Sox history -- both on and off the field. The modest first baseman might dispute such a notion, but the statistics, the words of praise from teammates and the integral role he played on the 2005 World Series champions are just a few facts to support such a hypothesis.

He enters 2013 sitting just 34 homers away from breaking Frank Thomas' franchise record of 448 and 159 RBIs away from topping Thomas' franchise-best 1,465 RBIs. Anyone who knows Konerko didn't need to hear him say Sunday morning that he won't continue playing to break records to already understand that to be true.

It's ultimately a more complicated issue than to stay or go for Konerko. It's also one that he certainly won't allow to take away from his everyday focus as he prepares for the season.

"There are so many moving parts to it. It's not just about performance at one level or another," Konerko said. "I can tell you poor performance is one way, for sure, to get yourself out of the game, because someone might not invite you back.

"But doing well just doesn't mean that you're going to keep playing if someone wants you to play. You're dealing with families, you're dealing with just your own mind and what you want to do. There are different things, different variables and trying to predict where those variables will be 10 months, nine months from now, whatever it is, it's impossible to do.

"One affects the other, and it's tough to project all that stuff," Konerko said. "So the main thing is, and it's hard to do because people will be asking about it, is just to break it down as simple as I can, and that's the day in front of me. Today's the first day coming here, and get some of the kinks out, get sore and move on to tomorrow. The best I can do that, the better off I'll be."

After posting two straight seasons with at least a .300 average, 31 homers and 105 RBIs, Konerko finished at a solid .298 with 26 homers and 75 RBIs in 2012. Konerko had a physically trying season, which included getting hit in the face by a Jeff Samardzija pitch at Wrigley Field on May 18 and taking a Jarrod Dyson elbow to the head on Aug. 7 while covering first base that caused a concussion.

There also were issues with his neck and back and the recurring floating bone chip in Konerko's left wrist, which he had removed via surgery on Oct. 4. As he prepares for 2013, Konerko feels a little more freedom in the wrist that he didn't know he had until the surgery and feels good overall.

"My time is spent getting ready, but every year it's a challenge to maintain that as the season goes," said Konerko, who worked out and hit during the offseason, in the midst of family life with his wife and three children.

"How you feel now and how you feel in July, August and September, that's an ongoing thing every day," Konerko said. "It gets harder every year. You have to be up for that and up for that challenge."

Baseball could continue on for Konerko after 2013, but not necessarily with the White Sox, as his three-year, $37.5 million extension comes to an end. The pragmatic Konerko had prepared himself to leave through free agency after the World Series title, before agreeing upon a five-year, $60 million deal, and then again prior to the 2011 season.

Now the old man of the clubhouse, as he is sarcastically called by teammates but doesn't really feel, has prepared himself for another move and possibly for life beyond baseball.

"I have some thoughts on some things that interest me that are a million miles away from there," Konerko said. "I look forward to trying to do something in a completely different walk of life. I'm not saying I would never say never about being involved in baseball, but I don't foresee it.

"You definitely have to think about that stuff and prepare a little bit. You can't just be blindsided by the end of your career. I don't think that's a good way to go about it. But at the same time, you don't want to prepare so much that you lose focus on what you've done your whole life."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }
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