Schuster: Chicago Prepares To Say Farewell To Konerko

(CBS) — The tributes and gifts have been going on all season for retiring White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, and they’ll conclude with Saturday’s festivities at U.S Cellular Park.

The White Sox will honor Konerko with a special pregame ceremony. Former teammates, family and friends will all be on hand to celebrate Konerko’s career, and the fans will definitely shower him with a long and loud ovation.

I personally have had the privilege of covering Konerko’s entire career here in Chicago, and what a career it has been. Clutch hits, home runs and a flair for the dramatic were always a trademark for one of the most professional athletes you could ever hope for.

Konerko’s grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series will always stand out as one of the lasting memories in a wonderful career full of memories. But for me, I will always remember what Konerko was like to deal with.

He epitomized what a captain is supposed to be: a leader both on and off the field. A man who was always calm under pressure but who also exhibited the tenacity to compete at the highest level. And as a human being there were few (ever) better to work with when it came to dealing with the media. We in the Pen and Mic club have a saying that there’s a “go-to guy” in each locker room and clubhouse, and for the White Sox it was always Konerko.

Not once can I remember when he wasn’t available to talk with us on any subject we put forth in front of him. Whether it was a play that came up in a particular game or a controversial subject that needed answers, Konerko was always willing to speak.

And when I say speak, it wasn’t the standard pulp you hear from most players. No cliches, no stock answers and never avoiding the question itself. And the thing that always struck me as special in talking with him was that he took time to really listen to the question and actually thought before he spoke. Remember when your parents or other adults tutored you when you were young to think before you speak? Konerko must have heeded that advice because he put it into practice with us all the time.

By most appearances, Konerko comes across as a serious-minded mature adult, but he also has a playful side that we were all fortunate to see. He has a deadpan sense of humor, and his wit was on full display, even though sometimes it went over our heads. He loved to talk about golf and all the courses he enjoyed playing. And I dare say he could beat almost anybody in a game of movie trivia, being one of the biggest movie buffs you’ll ever come across. He could recite lines like from “Good Fellows” and just keep going and going.

Konerko is also an accomplished guitarist and incredibly successful businessman, having made just as much money away from baseball as in the game. And he’s incredibly charitable, even though he wouldn’t want people to know that part of him. But I will recite one story that was told to me by a teacher out in Arizona.

The school where this teacher works was in need of repair to their grounds; Konerko found out about it and took care of the entire cost to rebuild it so the students could have a place to play.

Paul Konerko is a special athlete and man who has graced us with his presence and baseball prowess for the last 16 years. And even Cubs fans tell me that they both like and respect him. That’s right — even Cubs fans. And if that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is.

Konerko walks off into the sunset having given every ounce of his talent for our city. Here’s hoping he has just as much success away from the game as he did in it.

David Schuster is a reporter, update anchor and weekend host for 670 The Score.

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