Classy to the end, Konerko waves farewell to stellar career

White Sox captain exits to rousing ovation, thankful for support of family, fans

Classy to the end, Konerko waves farewell to stellar career

CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko officially became a former Major Leaguer in the sixth inning of the Royals' 6-4 victory over the White Sox on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field.

After grounding out to third leading off the fifth against Kansas City reliever Casey Coleman, Konerko ran out to the field to start infield work as starter Chris Bassitt warmed up. Andy Wilkins waited in the dugout, and when Bassitt was finished, Wilkins jogged out to replace the White Sox captain.

Konerko hugged the rookie and stopped to acknowledge the thunderous standing ovation. He soon returned to the field for a curtain call, with the 32,266 in attendance finishing off a wonderful weekend celebration honoring the 18-year-veteran, of which 16 years were spent with the White Sox.

One final on-field postgame television interview followed. Then Konerko circled the field, talking to fans who basically followed his every move since he arrived from the Reds before the 1999 season in a trade for Mike Cameron.

"That kind of stuff never gets old. But over the last couple days, you don't know, it just gets more -- not awkward, but you feel like, am I wearing out my welcome with all this stuff? And I know they're calling for it, so I'm trying to soak it all in," said Konerko of the standing ovations and curtain calls. "Even the last thing here, I went around the field and all that, it wasn't planned. I kind of came out there and kind of made my way to wave to some people down the left-field line and then once you start going, you realize, 'OK, I gotta go all the way around.'

"It's not in my nature to try to drag things out. I feel like my whole career was based around coming in and playing the game and just try to blend in with everybody else and get the job done. So when these times come and you have to be like that, I'm just not comfortable in those things. I do the best I can and I always have, but it always feels bizarre to me.

"I understand it's the end. And I now understand -- I don't think I would've understood this a year ago -- there's a lot of people out there I've impacted over the years here," Konerko said. "I see people crying out there. That's crazy that just because I played a game, I never thought about that stuff. Sometimes it's not always about what's comfortable to me. I have to make that happen and go for closure for them as well. It's something they don't teach you in the Minor Leagues, about this kind of stuff."

Unlike Saturday, when Konerko took the field by himself at the start of the game, Konerko made sure he ran out with his teammates Sunday. He wanted to keep the game as normal as possible, in true Konerko form, because he knew the game could mean something to the Royals and to Bassitt in pitching for a spot in '15.

There were handshakes for first-base umpire Chris Conroy and Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz as he took his familiar post at first base. He then wrote Nick, Owen, A (Amelia) and J in the dirt behind first base in honor of his three children and wife Jennifer. He topped off that on-field artwork with a heart at the bottom, something he thought about somewhere around 20 minutes before first pitch.

"It was as a thank you because your family is always in the back seat. Your mom, your dad, your wife, your kids," Konerko said. "You do the best you can, but if you're a big league baseball player, you have to be selfish. You have to leave the house early. You're traveling. You come home late. You just miss a lot. It's not a normal thing.

"So it was kind of A) A thank you and B) to remind me that when this all ends today, that's what really matters. That's what's waiting for me all the time on the other side, and that's pretty good. I came here as a 22-year-old, 23-year-old kid with nothing, single guy and all that. I'm leaving with a wife, three kids. You're leaving here with everything you kind of worked for in life. It reminded me that's what's on the other side, and it will be good."

A perfect ending would have been career home run No. 440 or even some sort of hit. But Konerko, playing with a fractured sesamoid bone in his left hand, finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. His career numbers show a .279 average, 439 homers and 1,412 RBIs, not to mention 2,340 hits, of which 410 were doubles.

By Konerko's own admission, he wasn't the hitter he has been since '11. That's a natural drop for a player coming to the end of his career. Baseball now goes on the backburner, although Konerko joked that with the White Sox remodeling the home clubhouse, he hopes to get his locker sent to Arizona.

Maybe he'll just sit in front of it at home, with cardboard cutouts of the media standing around.

"This whole weekend with the Paul Konerko Day yesterday and obviously today, it was really cool," said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer of Konerko. "They're out of it now obviously, but a lot of fans came to show up and show their appreciation. It's well deserved."

"Hit-wise that wasn't necessarily the way he wanted to go out, but the crowd reaction and having the people here he cared most about was very important to him," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He went out in a classy way."

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.