White Sox youth has Konerko recalling '99-00
Captain sees similarities as 2014 squad cycles through reshaping process
CHICAGO -- During his 16 seasons with the White Sox, Paul Konerko has seen it all.
Konerko has witnessed a World Series championship, three division titles, a pair of 90-some-loss efforts and a number of near-misses. He has watched a packed U.S. Cellular Field erupt in euphoria when Scott Podsednik hit a walk-off homer in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series sweep, coming two innings after his go-ahead grand slam. Konerko heard the collective groans and boos last year, when one defensive miscue followed another.
The White Sox captain has played with Hall of Famers and can't-miss prospects. Konerko also has watched as a few of those can't-misses come up a little short in the expectations department.
There is nobody better to analyze the current state of the organization as the team revels in its 5-3 Opening Day victory over the Twins. After all, Konerko has been part of youth movements, the go-for-it decade and now the reshaping program adeptly engineered by general manager Rick Hahn.
In Konerko's estimation, this addition of youthful energy is necessary for the White Sox.
"It feels to me like it's the first year of something new, and how quick this cycle goes, it depends on how everybody executes and comes along and works," Konerko told MLB.com during a recent interview. "We have some of the same faces from previous years, but it's in different roles, too.
"This feels like it's a new thing. Anyone who watched last year, obviously that's a good thing.
"Hopefully this next block of time. … Things do go in cycles in this game. People age and move on and this and that. A lot of reasons," Konerko said. "This feels like the first year of the new thing, so hopefully we take a nice step forward and there's no telling how quick it will come."
For a frame of reference, Konerko pointed to his White Sox squads of 1999 and 2000.
That '99 campaign marked Konerko's first with the White Sox and featured other young players such as Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, Bob Howry and Keith Foulke mixed in with younger veterans such as Frank Thomas, Ray Durham and Mike Sirotka. They finished 75-86 and second in the American League Central after winning their first two games -- a prelude to winning the division with 95 victories the following year.
"We were way younger than this team, and we hung in there," Konerko said. "The next year, boom, it happened. But definitely that '99 team was a break from, I was part of that. It was a new thing.
"So this kind of feels like a new thing here. It feels like we have kind of moved forward. … We just have to know that it's good, but when the season starts, that's when it truly counts. By the end of the year, hopefully great things have happened, and at the very worst, hopefully it's a big jump forward."
Through six weeks of Spring Training and one regular-season contest, two words come to mind in the White Sox reshaping generation: energy and competition.
Energy comes from newcomer Adam Eaton getting on base at the top of the order but also running full force down the first-base line, taking that big turn at first and making the outfielders think he might do something more. It also comes from a major free-agent acquisition in Jose Abreu, who ripped a double over the right fielder's head in his first at-bat, drove a single to left his next time up and then laced a pair of long fly balls to center to complete his afternoon.
And the competition comes from a once relatively thin Minor League organization now having options for manager Robin Ventura and his staff to turn to if things go awry at the big league level.
Last year pushed the White Sox in this direction.
"We've sprinkled in some young guys in other years," Konerko said. "But with the young guys we've put in this year, just kind of guys that, not to knock anybody else we've had here in the past, but we've got some guys that are really talented guys comparative to everybody else in the league as well.
"You see horses like Avisail [Garcia], Eaton -- guys that you see can be a centerpiece of a really good team. It's fun to see that.
"As a fan, I've been here a while, and it's exciting to see," Konerko said. "We've had guys we've thrown that on in the past, and I'm not sure it was warranted as much for whatever reasons or different reasons. We have some guys [now] that are going to be the guy at what they do, All-Star-type players."
John Danks hasn't quite seen as much as Konerko as the second-longest-tenured member of the White Sox. He has been part of one of the franchise's greatest moments in the 2008 Blackout Game and seen the depths to which the team can drop.
Much like Konerko, Danks thinks highly of the way this present cycle is turning.
"Obviously, we are going in the right direction," Danks said. "We have some young guys that are going to be around a while that are very talented and give us a chance to win, not only this year, but for years to come.
"You know, we never saw what happened last year coming. It is a rebuild. You can put fancy words on it, but it is a rebuild. It's gearing up for the future, but I think Rick and [executive vice president] Kenny [Williams] did a good job of not only setting us up for a long time, but giving us a chance to win now."