Konerko soaks in cheers, hints at return

CHICAGO -- Nothing went as planned this year for Paul Konerko, so why should the final day of the season be any different?

After straining his back Saturday night, Konerko played just two innings Sunday in what could have been his White Sox farewell as his contract expired at the completion of the season.

The longtime team captain came to the plate in the first inning to a standing ovation from the crowd of 22,633 and fouled out, but even that was appreciated. Konerko received another modest ovation as he returned to the dugout.

In the second inning, Konerko took his position at first base, but was replaced by Conor Gillaspie before the first pitch. As he jogged off the field, he received yet another standing ovation, and then received a curtain call after getting back to the dugout.

“It always feels good,” Konerko said of the ovations. “The fans here have treated me great over the years. In a year like this, they treated me better than probably I deserved, really the whole team when you think about it. There were moments where they hung in with us where I knew they were antsy about what was going on (with the team).

“(Fan appreciation) always feels good. It certainly feels better when you're doing World Series parades but I don't take it for granted at all. It's always good, but this year was a little different circumstances.”

Now comes the waiting game. The White Sox are expected to be interested in re-signing Konerko, but their offer will likely come with a pay cut from the $13.5 million ($7 million deferred) he earned in 2013.

Konerko wants to take at least a month to decide if he even wants to play anymore, although at 37, he knows the itch will come with a vengeance soon.

General manager Rick Hahn already said that the team plans on having a face-to-face meeting with Konerko possibly in early November, if not earlier, and Konerko said he expects to have lunch with chairmain Jerry Reinsdorf in Arizona around that timeframe as well.

Because everything is in limbo, Konerko felt sheepish about getting so much attention from fans. He went through the same thing after his contract expired following the 2010 season and ended up returning.

“People treated me so well (in 2010) and it was such a big deal at the end, when I came back I felt like I kind of played with people's emotions even though that was nothing intentional,” Konerko said. “It was such a big deal at the end there and it was similar to that today where I didn't want to make a big spectacle out of it.

“There's no escaping it kind of at the end here when there is some unknown about what's going to happen. But I definitely had that in mind because I didn't want to be out there tipping my hat every time I moved a muscle and all that kind of stuff. I totally love it and the fact they're behind me, but I feel a little awkward not knowing.”

About the only thing Konerko does seem to know at this point is that if he does return in 2014, that will certainly be his final season.

If Konerko fans are able to find a silver lining from a miserable season it’s that struggles like this don’t necessarily inspire somebody to walk away.

“I feel probably like most of you people that have been around here and everybody I've talked to that this just doesn't seem right, the way this has gone down, so that lends itself to playing,” Konerko said. “But I also don't know about the team and all that kind of stuff so you still have to throw that in and say that's a possibility, that even if I want to that they don't want it.

“Nonetheless, they've given me more over the years and it’s not about this one day. Baseball's never summed up in one day. That's what great about baseball, it’s summed up over a whole season of games, a whole career of games. That’s how it is with me and the fans.”

With his two young sons waiting in the clubhouse while Konerko wrapped up his final interview of the season, he was asked if he just needs to get away from things for a while before deciding on the future.

“As soon as I walk out of here, regardless of what I want, it’s family time; I have to be a dad,” Konerko said. “Which reminds me, is anything on fire back there? I haven’t seen (my kids) in a while.”

If you had to get a read on Konerko on the final day of the season, the clues point to him wanting to return, with the White Sox his preferred destination.

“I have some trips planned, some things going on here, and (the downtime) does wear off,” he said. “That’s why I said the other day that there’s no doubt the next couple of weeks, month, the needle is going to move to wanting to get back here. That’s the nature of our habits as players. We were born to do this.”