CHICAGO – Gordon Beckham would rather not envision an Opening Day when Paul Konerko does not pick up his glove and jog to his familiar workplace at first base.
But Beckham knows that day will come for his friend, teammate and soon-to-be groomsman.
“I don’t want to think about it,” Beckham said. “But, yeah, I do.
“There is a day that he will not be out there. I know that because he’s talked to me about it. At some point, he will stop. And he’s not really going to be one to just fizzle out.”
It’s not clear what comprises the opposite of a fizzle.
Whatever it is, Monday might have marked Konerko’s no-fizzle finale to Sox season openers. He went hitless but watched Chris Sale vex the Kansas City Royals en route to a 1-0 win in front of a season-high crowd (ha, ha) of 39,012 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Konerko, 37, has been a spring fixture for Sox fans since “The Matrix” aired in theaters, Steve Forbes campaigned for president and the looming “Y2K” crisis dominated fear-driven newscasts. It was April 5, 1999, and a much younger and marginally faster Konerko batted in the cleanup spot between Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez.
Konerko blasted a two-run homer that day against Seattle Mariners starter Jeff Fassero. However, that’s not what he remembers most about his first opening series with the Sox.
“I just remember after that series, we got home at like 8 in the morning because we played a night game,” Konerko said. “It was light out. We were driving home from Midway Airport in the morning in rush-hour traffic coming into the city. That was a lot of fun.”
Every year, the traffic gets worse. Every year, Konerko seems to get better.
But nobody can play forever.
Including Monday, 15 season openers have passed since Konerko joined the Sox via trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Konerko has more at-bats (55), hits (22) and RBIs (15) during Opening-Day games than some players accumulate in a season.
Not even Konerko could deny that 15 season openers with the Sox, including a team-record 13 consecutive starts at first base, was a big deal.
“I’m probably most proud of that as far as from a personal standpoint,” Konerko said.
That’s pretty impressive when you consider some of Konerko’s other numbers: 2,183 hits, 422 home runs, 1,336 RBIs and six All-Star selections.
“Any statistic I have, anything you can throw out there, someone else has done it or someone else is doing it,” Konerko said. “There’s so many guys that are good in this game and way better than I’ve been. But I take pride in that [opening day] number because that number gets real small when you start breaking it down.”
Naturally, Konerko doesn’t want to break down whether this is his final tour with the Sox. He speaks in five-minute filibusters about staying focused on today.
But Konerko’s contract will expire at the end of the season.
He could decide to call it quits. He might choose to play closer to his home in Arizona. He could join a big-payroll World Series contender. He could return to the Sox.
Regardless, Konerko isn’t talking about The End. He claims not to think about it, either.
“Not really,” said Konerko, who was showered with chants of “Paul-ie, Paul-ie,” as he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning. “Every now and again, I get asked questions like that, so then I have to think about it.”
The Sox and Konerko have gone down this road before.
After the Sox won the World Series in 2005, Konerko spent a month as a free agent before re-signing with the team. The same thing happened after the 2010 season.
Rick Hahn was part of the Sox front office on both occasions.
“I think at least on one of those occasions we ran the tribute video in his last at-bat,” said Hahn, now general manager. “I’m sure we’ll do that at the end of this season.
“Each time, we’ve been able to work something out. It’s been a matter at the end of the season sitting down with Paul and hearing where his thoughts are and our thoughts are and being able to come to some sort of agreement.”
On one topic, every Sox fan can agree.
Opening Day is better with Konerko in the lineup.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.