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Facing an uncertain future, Konerko puts team first

Facing an uncertain future, Konerko puts team first play video for Facing an uncertain future, Konerko puts team first

CHICAGO -- The topic of conversation put forth to Paul Konerko during the opening of SoxFest festivities at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago on Friday centered squarely on his future.

That particular subject -- or anything, really, to do with the captain as an individual player -- stands as Konerko's least favorite topic to discuss.

But even with only one year left on his three-year, $37.5 million deal, possibly indicating the end of his All-Star run in baseball, let alone Chicago, one of the franchise's consummate leaders put the team and 2013 season first, as he always does.

"It really doesn't matter what year you're in," said the 36-year-old Konerko, going through one of the countless media waves before Friday's opening ceremonies. "If you have a year coming up to play, whether you're 22, 30, 35, whatever it is, it's all about the year coming up. 

"So that's where my focus is. Just try to do it as right as I can and leave it all out there."

Konerko has been in this spot before, and he handled the situation with the same class he showed on Friday.

After winning the World Series in 2005, the first baseman explored free agency. He ultimately spurned offers from the Orioles and Angels, returning to the White Sox via a five-year, $60 million deal.

In the offseason following the 2010 campaign, coming off 39 homers and 111 RBIs, Konerko chose the White Sox over his hometown D-backs and signed the extension that expires after this upcoming campaign. In both cases, Konerko talked about the situation to some extent during Spring Training, but once those games began, the topic was tabled until October.

This sort of approach certainly is one to be followed by Konerko again in 2013, as he prepares for season No. 15 on the South Side of Chicago.

If Konerko's teammates had anything to say about his future, he would be with the White Sox until the day his retirement is officially announced -- and that retirement wouldn't come for a few years. Konerko has the respect of everyone on the roster, and in the organization for that matter, with players fully understanding that his value runs deeper than the 415 home runs he has launched as part of the White Sox, 415 homers that leave him 34 short of Frank Thomas' franchise record.

"Paul will have his face right up there on the wall next to Frank's," said pitcher John Danks. "It's fun watching Paul every day, and not just the games.

"From the time you get to the ballpark at 1 p.m., he's hitting in the cage. He takes BP on the field and hits in the cage after BP. If he doesn't feel good about what he did in the game, he'll hit after the game. Paul takes his job very seriously, and it shows.

"That's the reason why he's a Hall of Famer in my mind. I hope this isn't it. It has been fun playing with and watching Paul. It will be a sad day if this is it."

When Chris Sale signed with the White Sox in June 2010 after being selected with the 13th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft, it was Konerko who showed him around the clubhouse during a visit to U.S. Cellular Field. Sale referred to Konerko as "sir" during one of their conversations that day, and Sale recounted on Friday Konerko's humorous response.

"He said, 'Don't ever call me sir again. We might be teammates some day,'" said Sale with a laugh. "He's awesome, he's the best. If you take a step back and kind of look at the White Sox, he's kind of what makes the Chicago White Sox who they are. It's an honor and a privilege to play with him and see him play.

"People like him don't come around very often. To be able to witness his accomplishments and play with him and see what kind of leader and role model he is for baseball and just everybody ... All of us can kind of agree [that] he's got some good years left in him."

As of May 27 last season, Konerko was hitting an eye-popping .399, made even more eye-popping by the fact that he reached that ridiculous number with a complete lack of speed. He finished at .298, with 26 homers and 75 RBIs, hampered at times by a sore neck, a floating bone chip in his left wrist and a concussion caused by a Jarrod Dyson elbow at first base in a game on Aug. 7.

October surgery removed the loose body in the wrist, and Konerko, who never used the wrist as an excuse for his statistics coming back down to earth, feels healthy and ready for more baseball. Ultimately, he would like to finish his career in Chicago.

Such fellow organization staples as Mark Buehrle (12 years with the White Sox) and A.J. Pierzynski (eight years) would have liked to do the same, but they moved on to new teams. Konerko is prepared to move if the situation dictates, either out of Chicago or out of baseball. He's just not prepared to commit to his future at the end of January.

"The main thing is going out this year and doing it right ... Helping this team out, that's what the job description is," he said. "Not my personal issues that deal with that. If it doesn't work out to where I'm back here, then that's the way it goes.

"[Buehrle and Pierzynski] wanted that, too. You have to be ready for that. I was ready for that eight years ago, three years ago. You just dust off those feelings when you get to that point every time. And you prepare, and I've done that already. So it's just a matter of doing it again."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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