Konerko wants no special Opening Day treatment
Captain content to follow club's plan for the 2014 season
CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko will be at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday for his 16th and final Opening Day with the White Sox and 17th opener overall.
He'll take part in the pregame festivities and receive a loud, long and well-deserved ovation when he's introduced to the crowd. The only difference for Konerko from past Opening Days is that he won't be part of the starting lineup, with Jose Abreu starting at first and Adam Dunn as the designated hitter.
The decision made by Konerko, in conjunction with manager Robin Ventura, illustrates why the captain stands as the consummate leader. It also shows another reason why he's the right man for the full-time mentor, part-time player role in '14.
There is great sentimentality to have Konerko start on Opening Day, just because he's Konerko. That move would have probably put Konerko at designated hitter, Abreu at first and Dunn on the bench at least at the outset of Day 1.
But Konerko understands the plan for his return.
There will be somewhere around 250 plate appearances for one of the franchise's great players, and he will see much of that time against tough left-handed pitchers. With right-hander Ricky Nolasco starting for the Twins on Monday, Konerko believes that his start would go against the plan.
It's always the team first in Konerko's world.
"No emotion: Just what is right is right. That's just the way I see it. If there was a lefty throwing tomorrow, I'd probably play," said Konerko, speaking at Sunday's workout. "It's just the way it should be. It's not part of the blueprint of what we're going to do here."
"For him to do that, it's a testament to him being a good teammate," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire of Konerko's decision. "He's obviously a well-accomplished hitter, so I won't miss him being in there tomorrow."
Konerko has two hits in six at-bats and one RBI lifetime against Nolasco, while Dunn is 6-for-25 with one homer and four RBIs. Dunn also excels on Opening Day, as his eight career long balls are tied with Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson for the most all time in Game 1.
Dunn told MLB.com last week in Arizona that he would be willing to sit for Konerko to make that final Opening Day start. He also acknowledged that it's an interesting call to be made because of the plan that has been laid out for the Sox three first basemen/designated hitters.
That opinion stayed pretty much the same for Dunn on Sunday.
"He obviously deserves to be out there Opening Day," Dunn said. "We all came in kind of knowing what our roles will be this year. If we were going to deviate from the plan from Day 1, that wouldn't be much of a plan. I think he understands it, I understand it. Hopefully, it works out."
"In talking to Paulie, it's not an easy decision. But when you go over how you're going to do this and how you're going to make it work, he made it clear this is kind of what he signed up to do," Ventura said. "It's more out of respect to him that you're not just going to put him out there just to put him out there. And he respects the game, he respects his teammates."
Those teammates have the same high level of respect for Konerko.
Chris Sale, whose Opening Day start total hits two on Monday, didn't know about the Konerko decision until told by the media. He referred to Konerko as the "only person in Chicago, in the country, in the world, that thinks he shouldn't be out there." The left-handed hurler then made a polite but direct plea for the Konerko verdict to be overturned.
"I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but I think he should be out there," Sale said. "With what he's done for this city, what he's done for this team, who he's been throughout his entire career, I think he's kind of earned that.
"What he says goes. If he doesn't want to be out there, it's his prerogative, it's his decision. He's never just thinking about himself. It would be very easy for someone in his position to say, 'I've earned that, I deserve it.' For him to really go out of his way and put that on someone else, I think that kind of shows what his character is."
Again, this call isn't about character for Konerko. It's about team baseball. For two years as a designated hitter and then 13 more at first base, he was the right man to be on the field for the White Sox on Opening Day.
This new world dictates that Konerko would probably not be starting against Nolasco if it was Game 3 or Game 33. So Konerko doesn't want anything changed just as a hat tip for his impressive body of work.
"When I signed up to do this, I factored everything in. If I wanted to play this year and start on Opening Day, I should have played better last year to make it a non-issue," Konerko said. "Then again, if that happened, maybe I wouldn't be sitting here. It's just simple to me. There is a plan of roles and when guys play and when they don't play. You just follow it."
"Paulie has been a consummate professional and one of the best [right-handed hitters] we've had to face," Gardenhire said. "He knows what baseball is all about. It's a team sport. I think he's well respected here in Chicago, and this is another reason why he should be respected."