Konerko caps stellar career with Clemente Award
Former White Sox slugger looking forward to next chapter in retirement
CHICAGO -- Retirement has not yet taken full hold of Paul Konerko, even close to one month after he played the final inning of his highly accomplished 16-year-run with the Chicago White Sox and an 18-year Major League career.
Maybe that fact holds true because Konerko was in San Francisco on Friday for Game 3 of the World Series, recognized beforehand with the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins as co-winners of the prestigious 2014 Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. Maybe it's because driving carpool for his three kids and spending time with his family represents the norm during down time after a grueling 162-game schedule.
But Konerko stood as a civilian at the home of the Giants, having been to baseball's mountain top with the White Sox in 2005, and more than ready for the next chapter of his life without the bats, the gloves and the balls.
"I've had so many people congratulate me on retirement, but your whole career, all you do is work as hard as you can, grind as hard as you can to continue to play. You are playing to stave that off," Konerko told MLB.com by phone from San Francisco. "You don't look at retirement as a good thing. You look at it as a bad thing. You look at it as something you try to stay away from it as long as you can.
"Now that it has happened and you are welcomed into that side, you realize the accomplishment was getting here and it's a good thing. Like I said early in the year, you look at it like a graduation. That's what it feels like right now.
"Honestly it feels like a normal offseason," Konerko said. "But once we get to another month or two from now it will probably sink in a little bit more because it won't be like, 'OK, now you have to go downstairs and go hit, start getting ready. You have to start a certain weightlifting program.' That won't exist. I definitely can feel right now that relief of not having that deadline."
The longtime White Sox captain joked on Friday that at some point around this time of year, someone already would point out how many days remain until pitchers and catchers report. That date won't be part of Konerko's plans in the near or probably distant future.
Past offseasons have been completely booked and scheduled by Konerko and his family, with that upcoming season preparation kept in mind. There's nothing on the docket currently for Konerko.
"It is kind of nice to not have that burden on top of you," Konerko said. "As you get here you realize, 'This is what I've been working for.' It has been a great run. It was fun, but it is a cool thing to have gotten here now and now you can enjoy it a little bit, and do some of the things you could never do."
Making this trip to San Francisco became an unexpected pleasure for Konerko, who traveled from Colorado where he was watching Pearl Jam perform to stand as the first White Sox player to ever be recognized as a Roberto Clemente Award winner. This annual Award "recognizes a Major League Baseball player who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement," as put forth on the award's media advisory.
That description perfectly sums up the career of the classy Konerko, who along with his wife Jennifer, and Jim and Andrea Thome, in conjunction with the White Sox, founded the Bring Me Home Campaign in 2007 to partner with Children's Home + Aid in raising awareness, generating support, recruiting foster parents and advocate for the needs of foster children and families. The Bring Me Home campaign has raised $450,000, while making a direct impact on thousands of children, including the purchasing of over 1,500 backpacks with school supplies for foster youth, back-to-school clothes for more than 400 children, sending more than 200 children to summer camp and rewarding over 100 high school graduates.
"Thoughtful is the word that came to mind in both plays of the word," said Christine O'Reilly, the senior director of community relations and executive director of White Sox Charities, of working with Konerko. "He really cared about what the program was going to be and who it was going to touch. It wasn't just with him, 'Hey this is what I set up, come and show up and do it.' He was involved, making sure that it was meaningful."
Jennifer Konerko has six adopted siblings and her parents have fostered 50 or 60 kids, so Konerko saw up close how it can work and help kids. It also was a charity that fit both Konerko and Thome, whom Konerko refers to as "one of the best ambassadors the game has ever seen."
Konerko intended to split Chevrolet's monetary contribution coming with the Award between Home + Aid and a similar organization in Arizona. He planned on donating the car he received to Chrysalis, an Arizona-based domestic violence prevention agency supported by former teammate Mark Teahen and his wife, Lauren.
Although he will "lay low" into the new year, Konerko also plans to ramp up his charitable work as he ramps up some business ventures in 2015. Retirement won't stop this part of his life originally connected to baseball.
"Now, I would like to just be more hands on, the originator of things instead of having the team facilitate it," said Konerko, who expressed great pride in being given this honor. "It's actually me coming up with it, coming up with ideas."