By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — Paul Konerko Night was all about the fans that he played for and his relationship with them. A near sell-out crowd of 38,000 cheered on the captain as he received the ultimate gift a player can be honored with.
A moment in time for White Sox baseball was celebrated with Konerko making the last putout of the 2005 World Series, followed by a fist pump in the air. That unique sequence has now been embossed in a bronze statue unveiled at the pregame tribute.
The White Sox went as far as to find the fan who caught Konerko’s game-changing grand slam home run in Game 2 of the World Series. That loyal fan was found by VP of Marketing Brooks Boyer. The fan, Chris Claeys, turned over the ball to the captain during the ceremony. All he asked for was a picture with Konerko and an autograph on it from the player.
“I said to him this has been my prize possession for nine years but tonight it becomes yours,” Claeys told reporters after the tribute. “He gave me a hug and said I think we are the two most nervous guys out here.”
Konerko thanked everyone in attendance, his family, the White Sox family, present and past teammates. He saved his best for the White Sox fan base.
“I think of all the bad streaks, the bad months, the bad years, the double plays I hit into, where you said how in the hell is this guy that slow,” Konerko said. “All that stuff, there are millions of things we can come across. That is when you ( fans ) lifted me up and kept pushing me through where I am today. When you look at that statue out here or you look at the number (#14 will be retired in 2015) that is going to go right there (behind home plate ) when you look at that and I am not here, remember your finger prints are all over it. That (statue) wouldn’t be there without you guys.”
The State of Illinois made September 27, 2014 Paul Konerko Day. The White Sox presented ‘The King’ with two awesome guitars, a 1976 Gibson-Les Paul and a classic 1963 Fender-Stratocaster that is a rock and roll legendary piece, considered the most iconic in history of Rock and Blues with an estimated value of $25,000. An oil painting was commissioned with three poses of the six-time All Star. His former teammates on the 2005 champs gave Konerko a cased and glassed display with 24 single signed baseballs, all that in appreciation and recognition of his retirement.
White Sox boss Jerry Reinsdorf said on Friday Konerko was one of his two favorite players of all time, with Harold Baines being the other.
“The best thing I say about Jerry is he is old school,” Konerko said. “It is still nice to know that here are people in the world that you don’t need a contract with you just need a handshake. He is a loyal man and I am forever indebted to him.”
The game was not about a storybook finish for the Sox star first baseman. He struck out in the first, grounded out to shortstop in the third and struck out again in the sixth. He got a final standing ovation as he was removed from the game after taking his position in the top of the seventh. “I was always around guys who were grounded and kept me in my place,” Konerko said after the game about relating to the common man and fan base. “I always thought the second you think you are doing really good and you are ‘that guy,’ you get knocked down. You just don’t think that, instead you keep grinding away. I hope my whole thing is about -chalk one up for the guys I played with ( the average player). They are the ones who don’t get nights like this, who don’t get anything like what happened here. I feel like that’s for those guys. That is what makes this game go. It is not the super star guys. I always felt I fell into line with what the team concept was.”
Well done Mr. Konerko: You did it well and you did it right! Thanks for the memories.