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Konerko focused on upcoming season

Konerko focused on upcoming season

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PEORIA, Ill -- If a Major League Baseball primer exists concerning how to handle impending free agency as a player, then Paul Konerko probably contributed to that manual back in 2005.

The White Sox first baseman addressed this possible foray into the open market before the memorable regular season began and then basically tabled all further discussions until shortly after the World Series championship parade came to a close. Konerko fielded serious offseason offers from other teams, such as the Angels, but ultimately returned to the White Sox via a five-year, $60 million deal.

Although the money and possibly even the demand might not quite be the same for the White Sox captain, who turns 34 on March 5, Konerko doesn't intend to change that free-agent gameplan in 2010. He begins season No. 12 with the White Sox, and he hopes it's not his last on the South Side of Chicago.

"Absolutely, I would like to stay [with the White Sox]," Konerko told MLB.com on Saturday night, prior to the 15th Joyce Thome Benefit for Children's Hospital of Illinois at the Peoria Civic Center. "I know I'm not going to play forever. But I've come this far, so I might as well finish it out with them.

"That would be my hope. At the same time, I'm prepared for anything. We'll have to see how it plays out."

As a veteran player, Konerko, who lives by the credo of team goals above personal statistics, so much so that he rarely talks about his numbers during the course of a season, appreciates how the White Sox "want to win" and continuously obtain better players to be in the postseason mix every year.

An argument could be made as to how Konerko stands as a major contributor to the White Sox staying in that contending mix. Entering the 2010 season, Konerko ranks second in franchise history behind Frank Thomas with 319 home runs; third with 1,016 RBIs; fifth with 305 doubles and sixth with 861 runs scored. His name dots the Top 10 in other categories on offense.

Ask Konerko about his legacy with the White Sox, though, and the humble standout follows a familiar pattern. He defers the plaudits to a later time.

"Yeah, I try not to think about it too much, because, simply, there are some people on those lists that I might be ahead of, but I don't care how much I ever do or how far I get ahead of them, I'm just not better than them," said Konerko of his White Sox accomplishments. "Some names on there, it just doesn't fit right in my mind.

"Certainly, there will be plenty of time when I'm done playing to sit back and look at all the fun things. It's not productive now to be caught up in it. I learned from one of the best in Jim [Thome], who has done it all and has Hall of Fame numbers, there's no doubt, but shows how you can't have complacency.

"You just keep working," Konerko said. "Show up like you've done nothing."

Thome refers to Konerko as one of the best hitters he's ever seen, fundamentally and mechanically. He also joked about Konerko being known as someone who overanalyzes things.

That intelligence, according to Thome, is what makes Konerko go.

"It's a real pleasure to watch him," Thome said. "And there's a reason why he is our captain. He breeds class and he gives you the time of day."

Konerko also has an innate understanding of the business side of the game, which helps him comprehend that the White Sox might not be his baseball home forever. He needs to look no further than the free-agent situation currently being experienced by Thome and Jermaine Dye, as examples.

Neither player has a 2010 employer, even though both are coming off solid, if not spectacular, seasons in Chicago (Thome was dealt to the Dodgers on Aug. 31). There's no sign of Konerko slowing down -- he hit .277 with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs in 2009 -- and there's no chance Konerko suddenly will change his approach and start worrying about the future before playing out the present.

Serving as a leader for a team with playoff aspirations doesn't allow such an attitude in Konerko's mind.

"Any time I spend talking or thinking about my personal situation is being selfish against my teammates, who I have to be there for," Konerko said. "That's cut and dry in my mind. If I have a good season and help our team win and help our guys get better, there will be a uniform in 2011 for me somewhere.

"You try to, No. 1, learn over a career how to prepare for a season and how to put together a good season. You start at square one, where we are at now during the offseason, preparing to get in there, and you kind of have the feeling that, as a player, you prepare to go the distance.

"In the offseason and Spring Training, you know people will ask about that kind of stuff [free agency] and you accommodate it. As you get closer to the start of the season, you start tapering that down, and when the season starts, you have a job to do.

"Right now, I have nowhere to go," Konerko said. "I'm signed up to play for the White Sox, and you have to be prepared to go all the way to next November or December to find out where you are going to play again. If anything happens before that, great. I'm willing to be in the fight for the distance and do everything it takes to get there."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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