CHICAGO – Paul Konerko was born in New England and grew up in Arizona, and his father, Hank, said that a lengthy baseball career in Chicago was the perfect fit for his son.
“He’s half Italian, half Polish,” Hank Konerko said not long before the team celebrated his son on Paul Konerko Day. “Where else would God want him to play but Chicago?”
During his nearly 9-minute speech to the crowd before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, Konerko acknowledged a quick bond with Chicago White Sox fans. Perhaps they could feel he was one of their own.
“You know, for some reason, when I got here early in my career, I don’t know what it was, I really hadn’t done anything, but you guys treated me like I had been here, and there was some kind of a connection I felt,” Konerko told the crowd just one day before his career was set to end.
Hank Konerko said the love White Sox fans showed his son was beyond measure.
“That’s priceless,” Hank Konerko said. “For the city of Chicago – and I’m talking North Side, South Side – it was a great thing. Just to be able to put a World Series championship in this town was great. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. He did it the right way. I just couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Self-aware and hard-working, Konerko showed characteristics that helped him connect with fans. Just don’t try to compliment Hank Konerko on the way his son was raised.
“It’s his mother,” Hank Konerko said. “Let’s get her in here and embarrass her. His mom, Elena, they talk about what inspires Paul and all that, she has been the base of the triangle. She has given him the spirit, the congeniality. When they say Paul is shy, humble and all that, that’s where that comes from.”
When Konerko’s father knew his son would be a baseball player, he thought he would be proud of the on-field accomplishments. Turns out, pride comes from where you're not expecting it.
“Things that affect me the most is when someone comes up and tells me a story about what he did for their daughter or son that didn’t relate to baseball,” Hank Konerko said. “Something that he might have given somebody in a wheelchair, a bat or a ball. Those are the things that really make me proud.
“Yes, I want to see one more home run. But he has just been a good player. He did it right and how often in pro sports do you see a guy with the same organization for this long and not have any animosity to each other?”
What made Paul Konerko a success on the field, though, might have been a good old-fashioned sibling rivalry.
“His brother [Peter] is probably to this day a better athlete than Paul,” Hank Konerko said. “He played college baseball. He could run. He was your typical wiry shortstop. He hit .350 from T-Ball to college, but they were singles and doubles. One thing Paul learned early in the game and I drummed it in to him: The team with the most points at the end of the game wins the game, so change the scoreboard.
“That’s what’s important as a position player. Paul always felt as though he needed to change the scoreboard to be effective to help his team win. That’s what he concentrated on mostly. It’s true.”