Thursday, September 25, 2014

WE MUST SAY FAREWELL TO PAUL KONERKO




"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
The End from Abbey Road
Words and Music: Paul McCartney, John Lennon

The End was the last song on the last album recorded by the Beatles. It is the best album of their storied career. Athletes don't end on quite the same note that many pop/rock stars end on. The Beatles gave up on each other while their members were still all in their 20's. Sad for all of us. Athletes end their careers as their talents, skills and abilities are on the wane. Paul Konerko, a veteran of 18 seasons in major league baseball and a sixteen season veteran of the Chicago White Sox will end his career on Sunday, September 28th, 2014. One could argue Konerko easily could have walked away from the game at the end of the 2013 season, but I will not argue that way. His sixteen years with the Chicago White Sox ties him for the fifth-longest tenure in franchise history. He is second in home runs and RBIs only behind the legendary Hall-of-Famer, Frank Thomas. He is a six-time All Star. As captain he led the White Sox to their first World Series Championship in 2005 after fans waited for 88 years.

I write this as a fan. A fan of baseball. A fan of the Chicago White Sox. It is in my DNA. Well, not literally, but figuratively. My father was born and raised four blocks from Comiskey Park. My mother loves her boys. I shared the greatest moment of Paul Konerko's career with my mom. It was Sunday, October 23, 2005. I was at the first two games of the World Series at U.S. Cellular Field. More importantly, I flew in from Los Angeles where I was living at the time to watch the first two games with family members. Even more importantly, I was with my mother at game two. It was pouring through most of game two, but for the first time in my life it not only didn't matter, I didn't seem to even notice. We had our hoods up on our winter coats and we settled in. Me and my then 82 year old mom watching the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. My mom is now 91 and she rarely misses a White Sox game, although she is now unable to attend those games in person, so dare I say thank God for Comcast SportsNet, the U and WGN.

The Chicago White Sox were my family's team. Historically, we go way back. No one alive in 2005 that I knew was around when they won the World Series in 1917, but here we were. Our team had a remarkable season and they were now up one game and into the second. Paul Konerko who had endeared himself to White Sox fans at that point was up to bat and there it was - a Grand Slam home run to put the Sox ahead in game two. If we could win game two in Chicago we would head to Houston 2-0. The White Sox did win game two as they headed to Houston and they won the World Series in 2005 in a sweep. Houston never saw it coming, but the devoted fans did.

A funny feeling is upon me as we approach the end of Paul Konerko's baseball career. I'm feeling restless, feeling somehow like an end is more than an end. Paul Konerko is the last player from that World Series team still playing as of this season and when he walks off that field it will be the end of that era.  I have never felt this way about an athlete retiring. It's an odd sensation. I feel like there is more to all of this than there is. Intellectually, I know, life will go on and next year I will be cheering on the team. I will hope that the amazing combination of Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Conor Gillaspie, Adam Eaton and the other players that join or rejoin the team as of April 2015 will combine to win another world series. The concept of dreaming always....

The last two games of his career will take place on Saturday, September 27th and Sunday, September 28th. That's it. I will be at both games. There is consequential artistry in the beginning of a significant career, but there is an even greater art to closing out a career. Konerko, by all accounts has handled himself with grace, integrity, humility, loyalty and dignity in his 18 season career in professional sports. He was a very good player. An exceptionally good player, but seemingly an even better teammate. That is a job well done.

By all accounts, he is a nice guy with a wife and three young children.  He will go to Arizona and try to find something else to do with the balance of his life. After all, he is only 38 years old. Young by almost any standard other than sports. He's got the Gibson Les Paul guitar gift from the Cleveland Indians. Maybe. No, it's too late for that career.

Paul Konerko will be missed. I bought season tickets this year for the very reason that it was Konerko's last season. I will cry. I will stand up with respect. I will wave farewell. I will be in Section 159 on the tribute night looking at the blue seat - which represents where that World Series Grand Slam landed (the last one hit in a world series).

"When you're on the field for the last out of a World Series, on the winning side, there's nothing really even close," Konerko said. "I don't think I've had that type of a feeling before or since."

Paulie!!!! #14 will live long in my heart and in the hearts of many other fans for many years to come. I will take the World Series Champions of 2005 with me to my own grave. I didn't do a thing that season other than relish their victory with every family member that ever lived, walked and breathed. My eldest brother passed from a terminal cancer four years before that now iconic season. He missed it. My dad died from complications due to Alzheimer's three months before the final out in Houston. He missed it. I was back in Los Angeles watching the final two games alone in front of my television. My family had been in their homes in the Chicagoland area. I opted not to go to Houston even though my friends at ESPN said they'd get me tix. For some reason I felt I wanted to be alone. I cried that night. Tears of joy. Thank you Paul Konerko for your loyalty and your long tenure. May you return as a coach at some point when you feel it is the right time. You will be missed.

Only Luke Appling played in more White Sox games in his career. No one played more under the radar than Paul Konerko. He was always underappreciated, but no fan base identifies and connects better to a player. I loved the way he would make an adjustment in the middle of an at-bat. I didn't even know what that was until about six years ago and then I started paying attention to it. He was one of the most honorable players ever to set foot on a field. 

Strong work ethic. Humility. Loyalty. No pretense. Cared about his teammates and his city. Leader. Length of years. Charitable contributions. Teammate. Mentor.

There is something poetic about Konerko. Just something. If he has one more home run left in him (439 is his total) the last two games would be a good showcase to get to 440.

http://m.mlb.com/cws/video/v36552901/a-personal-thank-you-from-paul-konerko/?c_id=cws
This is the official Chicago White Sox farewell video. I cried.

Farewell Captain and Godspeed.

"The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace."
Numbers 6:24-26

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2014