By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — White Sox captain Paul Konerko was 9 years old the last time the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs before Friday night, when the scene in Chicago at U.S. Cellular Field was one of excitement for the Royals and their fans who made the trip from Missouri. As White Sox fans had to be content with four Konerko at-bats for their retiring idol for their entertainment, the Royals won 3-1 to earn their first playoff berth since 1985.
Konerko’s first two at-bats were painful reminders of what happens to the eroding skills of a star player 20 years into a professional career. A strikeout on three pitches and a comebacker to the pitcher was all that resulted from his first two at-bats. Better contact, but still no hits, was the final outcome of the two final Konerko plate appearances.
The final at bat against dominant closer Greg Holland was Konerko’s best of the evening. Working the count to 3-2, he hit a laser to mid-left field that was handled by Alex Gordon.
“When you have an at-bat and you hit the ball well, even after all of these years you think you will be able to process it well. What I notice is they still flat out suck,” he said. “You would think after all this time you know how to deal with it. It still sucks when you hit a ball hard right at somebody. I guess it is better than striking out, or check swinging the ball back to the pitcher.”
The juices still flow for Konerko, the White Sox’s all-time leader in total bases.
“This gives you some feeling you’re still competitive up there,” Konerko related about his last two trips to the plate. “It hurts because you are grinding up there, you are into a dogfight. You feel like you won that dogfight until it is hit right at somebody.”
Konerko was given a standing ovation all four times he came to the plate.
“It is really appreciated,” he said. “You believe every player thinks about the end of his career, and what it is going to look like when they get there. So far I have been surprised as to how much people care and how much people are doing for me. All the words, thank yous and signs, just everything … It is really a lot to process throughout a game when you are just trying to play and do your job. I am very lucky to have that, and you don’t want it to end. At the same time, it is uncomfortable when everything on the boards are about you. So I am looking forward to getting on the other side of it and trying to soak every last bit of it in while I am doing it. It is kind of that balance”
The fans will get two more games to view their iconic star. Konerko night begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Good seats are still available at whitesox.com and 312 674-1000 for both games.