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White Sox Mon Jul 23 2012

At 2,000, Konerko is Still One of a Kind

Tribune photo: José M. Osorio

By Lauren Camplin

I was only 8 years old when Paul Konerko was traded to the White Sox.

He hadn't played many games for the Dodgers and Reds, but the Sox considered him a good first base prospect. I remember hearing about him joining the team, but the trade that brought him over for Mike Cameron after the 1998 season was in no way monumental.

Years later, I can't imagine this team without him.

There's a reason Konerko stands with Derek Jeter as the only official team captains in the game. He led the Sox to a World Series title; trails only Frank Thomas among their career home run leaders; and last week he became one of three men to play 2,000 games for the franchise. He's on pace to pass Nellie Fox for second place next season.

Yet, Konerko remains underrated. He has gained a lot of respect over the years, but the way he has hit consistently since 2010 and played first base should be garnering way more attention nationally.

But that's the great thing about Paul Konerko: He doesn't care if he gets the attention or not. And I don't mean that in an "A.J. Pierzysnki doesn't care" kind of way.

Konerko plays for his town, his team, and his love for baseball. He plays no-frills baseball. When his bat isn't hot, he finds ways to adjust. I've never seen a player find his way out of a slump as naturally as Konerko does.

I first met Konerko at the Sox convention before this season. I was interning for a sports department and got my press pass to the media sessions. The room was packed and loud. After listening to Kenny Williams talk for much too long, I spotted a group around Konerko.

He is extremely soft-spoken. In a quiet room, you'd have to lean forward to hear him. In this case, with media and players all packed in a room, it was nearly impossible. I specifically remember he answered every question thoughtfully and always had a smile on his face.

Covering sports, you learn who is sincere and who isn't very quickly. That day, just from talking to him, I could tell immediately why Konerko was the unspoken leader of the team. He had an ease and modesty about him that is rare among athletes.

It's also rare to see a player stay with a team for so long. White Sox fans are fortunate to have watched Konerko grow from a prospect to a leader.

I will always think of Paulie when I think of what White Sox baseball is all about: grinding it out every game, loving every minute of it, and always setting expectations high.

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