Konerko's No. 14 retired on South Side

Captain thanks fans, organization for opportunity to play 16 seasons

May 23rd, 2015

CHICAGO -- The No. 14 already had been unveiled at U.S. Cellular Field, sitting in the pantheon of the 10 previously retired White Sox numbers (including Jackie Robinson), and located between Luis Aparicio (No. 11) and Ted Lyons (No. 16).

Then Paul Konerko, the man who so capably owned the number for 16 seasons on the South Side, stepped to the microphone.

"It's good to see you again," Konerko said. "It has been a while."

With that brief statement, applause rang down from a sold-out venue carrying a buzz among the 38,714 that was playoff-worthy. Fans arrived early and waited in long lines to honor their captain.

They were not alone. Dignitaries including Jim Thome, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, White Sox manager Robin Ventura and former manager Ozzie Guillen were flanked out to Konerko's right, while his wife, Jennifer, his three children, his parents and his brother sat to his left.

After an opening video tribute, Konerko walked in solo from center field to a standing ovation and picked up a baseball near the stenciled "14" behind second.

That sort of individual-based attention isn't Konerko's style, but it was a captivating moment created by White Sox senior vice president, sales and marketing Brooks Boyer nonetheless. It didn't escape Konerko's sharp wit.

"Brooks took the time to know me over the years for that nice, low-key, quiet entrance I had," said a smiling Konerko. "Thanks, Brooks.

"It was kind of a surreal experience to have that type of situation where they open the doors and here we come," added Konerko, who was standing behind the fence for 15 minutes before coming forward. "Certainly not in my character, but it went all right."

Boyer received genuine thanks from Konerko, as did everyone in the organization from the front office to his managers and coaches to the media relations department. Konerko pointed out Greg Walker and Mike Gellinger, his hitting coach and assistant hitting coach, who helped get his career to the high-level body of work where it concluded at the end of last September.

Konerko mentioned how Walker taught him the difference between a player who studied his statistics and a player who won. Konerko called Gellinger one of the most well-rounded baseball men he had ever been around.

"I'm kind of a complicated guy when it comes to hitting, so I needed two of them," Konerko said. "When I see that statue out there [on the outfield concourse], I see you two guys out there next to it."

This speech and ceremony represented Konerko: class, eloquence and humor. The microphone actually cut out near the end of his talk, and when it came back on, Konerko deadpanned, "And that's how I figured out the meaning of life."

He finished with his own tribute to the fans with six simple words.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Konerko said.

Based on the crowd reaction, which included a closing scoreboard vignette featuring fans' favorite Konerko memories, this sentiment clearly was felt across the ballpark.

"I feel like you treat people well, they treat you well back," Konerko said.