If you took a poll of Chicago White Sox Nation last Sunday, the day before Opening Day, and asked whether or not Paul Konerko should start the first game of the 2014 season, most (if not all) fans would have said an emphatic yes.
Even lefty ace Chris Sale, making his second consecutive Opening Day start for the White Sox, acknowledged that he wanted to see the veteran first baseman in the lineup, speculating that Konerko is maybe the only person in the world who didn’t want to see him play Opening Day.
But back in December, when Konerko agreed to return for one final season in a part time role as a mentor for new first baseman Jose Abreu, making his 16th consecutive Opening Day start was not explicitly part of the plan.
This is the Southsider who embodies what it means to be a true teammate — to put the whole before the part, to know when to step up and when to step back. But by benching Konerko and abiding by his wishes, the White Sox as an organization also showed a kind of selflessness in a gesture of ultimate respect to one of the franchise’s all-time greats. Konerko will always be an icon on the South Side, and one Opening Day start won’t change that. If anything, it simply adds to his mystique, and adds another story to the character canon he’ll leave behind.
With right-hander Ricky Nolasco starting for the Minnesota Twins against the White Sox in the season opener, left-handed hitting Adam Dunn earned the start at designated hitter to create a more favorable righty-lefty matchup. Dunn is a notorious force on Opening Day; his eight career home runs on the first day of the season tie him with Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey, Jr. for first all-time.
The White Sox beat the Twins 5-3. Konerko didn’t get into the game, and that’s okay with him.
Fans have always loved Konerko’s diligence on the field and his character off of it. They’ll just have to get accustomed to seeing a little less of him this year.