This weekend, a legend is taking his final swings in a baseball stadium full of cheering fans and standing ovations.
No, not that legend.
I’m talking about Paul Konerko, first baseman for the Chicago White Sox. After 18 seasons in the majors, he’s decided to retire from the game of baseball.
In many ways, it’s fitting that Derek Jeter is getting all of the media attention throughout his farewell. The quiet, hardworking Konerko spent the majority of his career under the radar of many casual baseball fans and media types. I don’t think he’d want it any other way.
After all, we’re talking about a guy that was drafted 13th overall by the Dodgers in 1994 as a catcher, was traded to the Reds during the 1998 season, then traded to the White Sox for Mike Cameron the next offseason. Not the expected start to a career for a guy who played nearly two decades. But oh, what a career it was.
The 439 home runs.
The six All-Star Game appearances.
The 2,340 hits.
The 2005 ALCS MVP award.
The first (and only) grand slam in White Sox World Series history.
I don’t remember where I was when I first saw the guy we affectionately called “Paulie” in a Sox uniform. But, in the years since his debut on the South Side in 1999, he gave me many memories I hold dear.
On October 16, 2005, he caught the final out that clinched the first White Sox pennant since 1959. That alone was an amazing experience. But, that moment also created one of the best father-son memories of my life.
That day, my dad was driving me back to the Twin Cities after a long weekend at home in Chicago. By divine intervention, we were able to listen to the first eight-and-a-half innings of the game on the radio, and we were back in my dorm room with the TV on for the final out. Our White Sox won the pennant. Even today, seeing footage of the final out brings tears to my eyes.
The power of sports is evident they bring together family and friends, strangers and neighbors. It’s heroes like Paul Konerko make that experience even richer.
Thanks for the memories, PK. We won’t forget them either.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Billy Schultz has been a devoted follower of Chicago sports since he could pronounce “Frank Thomas.” He cheers for the White Sox, Bears, Bulls, Tennessee Volunteers, Concordia Golden Bears and anyone who plays the Detroit Tigers.
When he’s not yelling at the TV because of a Jay Cutler interception or a Chris Sale gem, he finds himself working as a fundraising and communications professional and being a worship leader for a church plant. He resides in the Twin Cities, which may be the angstiest sports town in the US.