Opening Day of the MLB season should be declared a national holiday. The day is filled with countless emotions, especially optimism. People believe that any team, no matter what they did the previous season, has a chance to win it all.
Career minor leaguers making the Opening Day roster for the first time talk about how they will soak everything in. Guys who struggled the year before will preach that this day signals a fresh start. Every single player is feeling their own unique way for their own unique reason. For one particular player on the Chicago White Sox, that Monday afternoon will begin the last chapter of his baseball career.
Come March 31, Paul Konerko will trot out onto the field for the last time on Opening Day. The White Sox faithful will proclaim “Paulie, Paulie” as they have done so many times before. There no doubt will be an extended hand for the captain of the second team in the second city. Konerko will raise his cap to acknowledge the crowd, signaling his love for them.
This will mark the beginning of the end. While this moment may not mean much to most fans outside of White Sox nation, those brief seconds will symbolize admiration for the captain from his city.
Over the course of his 15 years on the Southside of Chicago, Konerko has gone about his business without creating much commotion. The six time All-Star is the most underrated baseball player of the 2000s. His 427 home runs, 1361 runs batted in, and .283/.359/.495 since 1999 makes Konerko one of the best players of this decade.
Professionals in the baseball field know it. Konerko’s peers around the game know it. White Sox fans especially know it. The problem is that not enough other people know it.
In a day and age where players like Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig draw attention as a result of every minor accomplishment, Paulie does not get deserving recognition for career accomplishments. Hitting a grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series is remembered by a select few outside of White Sox nation. Hitting over 25 home runs 11 times and having over 100 runs batted in six times in his career is not even acknowledged as it should be.
The White Sox have had countless personalities who have caused havoc in the clubhouse. Turmoil would unfold, destroying the season. Most superstars would demand a trade to a contender after their team finished out of first for another year in a row. Not Konerko. He knows that he is not above the game. As the veteran in the clubhouse, he believes he has the duty to mentor the younger hitters and keep the clubhouse under control.
Over the course of these past 15 years, Konerko has not received the recognition publicly that he deserves. Quite frankly, he would not have it any other way.
In the coming years, the White Sox will have a “Paul Konerko Day” as they place a statue of the first baseman in the outfield concourse and retire the No. 14 forever. No matter what the team’s record is at the time, U.S. Cellular Field will be packed for that one day. The fans will want to see the captain one more time. As everyone peers at the center field scoreboard to watch highlights of Konerko’s career, they will recall their own personal memories of Paulie.
Maybe it will be his historic grand slam in 2005 or him getting hit in the eye by a pitch and refusing to leave the game. On that day, Konerko will once again feel the love from some of the only people to recognize his greatness.