I can now add to my resume being the topic of Paul Konerko’s final question in what figures to be his last interview for quite some time. It’s a good example of Konerko’s sharp, dry wit that I regularly encountered during my 13 years covering him.
This little piece of humor released at the end of his 10-minute postgame press conference Sunday actually took root when I was standing in the clubhouse with White Sox media relations guru Bob Beghtol three or four years ago or somewhere around there and Bob asked Konerko, ‘Where does Merk rank among beat writers?’ Konerko thinks for a second and responds, ‘Second.’
I’m pretty happy with that answer because as anyone who has interviewed Konerko knows, he’s a great quote but you have to come prepared.
Bob then hits Konerko with the follow up question: ‘Who ranks first?’ Konerko pauses, smiles and says, ‘Everyone else is tied.’
I should have seen that coming, but Konerko was a step ahead–story of his career.
Good luck to a true professional, a highly accomplished player, the face of the White Sox franchise and a man who really knows his movies.
Bottom of the ninth, Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field. Minnesota leads, 6-5.
Glen Perkins and his 33 saves in the game, looking for his 34th, while top American League Rookie of the Year candidate Jose Abreu steps to the plate.
What resulted was a 14-pitch battle, ending with Abreu drawing a leadoff walk, and followed one out later by Dayan Viciedo launching a walk-off homer. It showed Abreu, the dialed in hitter, better than any 400-foot blast could illustrate.
“That’s tough when you start an inning out like that,” Perkins said. “I’m trying to get out of there as quick as I can and the first guy I see is 14 pitches and I don’t get him out.”
The at-bat began with six straight fastballs from Perkins, hitting either 94 or 95. Abreu took two outside the zone, swung and missed at one and fouled off the other three. Perkins went to three sliders and then returned to two fastballs, all of which were fouled off.
“It really is having a reference point, knowing how he has pitched us in the past,” said Abreu on Sunday, through interpreter and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. “How he has approached us in the past, taking everything into consideration, whether it’s video or just the knowledge I had of his pitches and just trying to have the best at-bat.”
Perkins missed with a slider, before Abreu fouled off another fastball. On pitch No. 14, Abreu took a fastball away to reach first. Viciedo battled through seven pitches of his own, benefiting from all the pitches viewed during Abreu’s at-bat, before crushing a fastball on pitch eight that caught too much of the plate.
“I really feel that was my best at-bat of the day, of the two games,” Abreu said. “I went into that at-bat knowing and believing that we need to tie this game, that we need people on base, so my whole process there was try to look for the right pitches, try to fight as much as I can and try to get myself on base.”
White Sox captain Paul Konerko referred to Abreu as a thinking-man’s hitter, and that he was a better hitter than a power hitter … and he’s a pretty accomplished power hitter, having tied Ron Kittle’s single-season White Sox rookie homer record of 35 with an 0-2 connection off of Perkins on Sunday.
“He knows the situations and knows what is called for at those times,” said Konerko of Abreu. “I love it because I feel like I’ve tried to play my whole career like that, where you have these different moments where … two outs and nobody on in the third inning, you let it fly and maybe you strike out.
“You have a guy on third and less than two outs, you know how to hit a ground ball to the infield and get this guy in. You have all these different types of gears in your swing. At least you hope you do.”
Nick Hostetler has seen the pain cancer can cause up close and personally.
He has three children with his wife, Nicole, having adopted their two girls, Kayla and Lacey, from her first marriage. Those girls lost their father to cancer.
Now the White Sox assistant director of amateur scouting is trying to take away the pain of this horrible illness from another young patient, four-year-old Carson Tate, even if only for one day.
Hostetler has helped organize a baseball camp this Saturday at Norwayne High School in Creston, Ohio, with ages 7-to-12 going from 9 a.m. to noon and ages 13-to-18 getting in action from 1 to 4 p.m. The cost is a $25 donation to go to help Tate battle Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
It’s uncertain if Tate will be able to make it to the camp. But members of his family are expected to attend the event that already has drawn a pretty strong response.
Tate’s mom and aunt went to high school with Hostetler, who resides in Sterling, Ohio. Hostetler’s parents, Andy and Kim, are best friends with Carson’s grandparents.
“When my dad called me and told me about this, us being close to the family, we came up with an idea to try to do something,” Hostetler said. “It’s bad any time a family deals with something like that. On top of it, he’s a four year old kid.
“That’s not fair. A kid shouldn’t have to deal with something like that. And watching my two girls live a portion of their life without their dad, who passed away with cancer, to say that didn’t strike a chord would be a lie.
“I look at them each day and what they have to suffer through,” Hostetler said. “Then I think about a kid their age is going through it. It’s hard to imagine.”
A number of local people are sponsoring with food and different items, and Hostetler has been arranging through donations for each camper to take home a piece of baseball memorabilia: whether it’s a hat, card or picture.
“Our main focus is Carson and raising as much money to help their family,” Hostetler said. “But it’s cool for a kid to take home something from camp.
“Hopefully the kids at camp realize how blessed and lucky they are, how they are healthy and strong and able to participate. I hope they can take that away as well.”
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Here are some weekend comments primarily from Hall of Famer Frank Thomas but also about the Big Hurt.
“Thanks for pushing me and always preaching to me ‘You can be someone special if you really work at it.’ I took that to heart, pops. Look at us today. We are a long way from Columbus, Georgia.”
A quote from his speech Sunday about his late father that seemed to resonate with many
“Your nickname for me really changed my life forever.”
Talking about Ken ‘Hawk’ Harrelson and the arrival of the Big Hurt
“I was Cool Hand Luke sitting there watching everyone’s speeches. As soon as I stood up, my knees started knocking.”
Nerves and emotions overwhelming him when it was time to speak
“He got me in his book.”
Hall-of-Famer Goose Gossage on Thomas, who had one hit and one homer in eight career at-bats against him
“Today is a bright stage amongst heroes. I wanted to get that out to the kids. Don’t take the shortcuts. Don’t do what other people say is cool or because it’s going to make you better. Believe in yourself, hard work and determination, stay true to yourself, is something I wanted to get out there.”
Sending a clear message in his speech
“My phone has been blowing up non-stop since the speech.”
Joking about the response to the 138 players he mentioned
“I’m in the Hall of Fame, man. It gets no better than that. These guys are my heroes. Looking on that stage, some of the greatest players, the Mt. Rushmore of baseball. It’s hard to take in. Emotions, they are what they are. I’m a young man, just 46 years old. To take this step at such a young age, I’m overjoyed.”
Thomas’ weekend exclamation point
“I’ve been working out hard the last two days but that’s not working either.”
Trying to relieve the stress leading up to Sunday
“I think 2006 is what defined my career, after being released in Chicago. Most people thought I was done. I knew I had a lot left.”
His comeback season in Oakland
“Thank you to the city of Chicago. You guys made the Big Hurt who he was in the greatest sports town in America. I know I’m biased, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment playing for you all and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
A moment of thanks for Chicago
“You taught me to only want to be the best. You would always say to me, ‘Anyone can be good Frank, but the special ones want to be great.'”
His special connection to Walt Hriniak
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Here is the highly unofficial list of players mentioned by Frank Thomas during the final minutes of his moving Hall of Fame speech that lasted 17:45 today. We, as in myself and two or three other beat writers, must have listened to this part of the speech 15 times, and then it became an interesting deductive process to figure out the players. We eventually nailed it down. See if you can figure out the tougher references.
“One Dog, Rock, Grebeck, R.V., Ozzie, Joey, Pudge, Karko, Psycho Lyons, Bo, Ellis, Black Jack, the Deacon, Sugar Ray, Alex, Wilson, Bere, Roberto, Thiggy, James Baldwin, Billy Bob, Buehrle, Hot Rod – thanks for the program Hot Rod.
“D. Bo., Magglio, Carlos, Rowand, Jermaine Dye. He’s here today along with Aaron Rowand. Ivan, Phil, Paulie, Crede, Uribe, Charles Johnson, Sandy, T. Phillips, Harold, Melido, Howry, Foulke, Mike Jackson, Flash, Kenny, Sandy, A.J., Robbie, McElroy, Merullo, Spanky, Julio, Willie Chill, Singleton, Mouton, Davey, El Duque, Fordyce, Leifer, G. Bell, C. Everett, Danny Pasqua, D.J., McCaskill, Paul, Huff, Valentin, Abbott, Devereaux, Kammy Kam (mentioned him twice by accident), John Kruk, Sirotka, Magrane, Freeman, Krueter, Norton, Tartabull, D. Lew, Scott Eyre, Navarro, Bradford, Castillo, Mark Johnson, Garland, Lowe, Eldred, Graffanino, Marte, Bartolo, Cotts, Glover, Loaiza, Contreras, Freddy, Politte.
“I know it’s long. Sorry.
“Jenks, Lee, B.A., Podsednik, Blanton, Kiko, Duke, Gaudin, Harden, Haren, Kotsay, The late Joe Kennedy. He left us too soon and was a special friend of mine. Saarloos, Huston, Zito, Kendall, Melhuse, Swisher, Chavy, Crosby, Ellis, D.J., Scutaro, Milton, Kielty, J. Payton, Doc Halladay, Accardo, A.J., Downsie, Frasor, Rios, Casey, League, McGowan, Marcum, B.J., Towers, A. Hill, Vernon, Johnny Mac, Orlando, Reed, Raja and Big Red.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – I had a chance to talk with Frank Thomas Saturday.
In two different locales. In two different generations.
One conversation was with Frank Thomas, the Hall of Fame inductee, who addressed the media for 30 minutes at the Clark Sports Center gymnasium along with fellow inductees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. The other conversation was with Frank Thomas, who happens to be the same age as my dad at 85.
But he played 16 more years in the Majors than my dad and hit 286 more home runs.
Thomas played for the Pirates, Phillies, Mets, Cubs, Astros, Cincinnati Redlegs and the Milwaukee Braves. He hit 30 homers in 1953 for the Pirates and topped 25 homers in seven different seasons.
He was signing autographs in Cooperstown this weekend on Main St.—of course there’s a Main St. in Cooperstown. Thomas was billed by one man as the “original Frank Thomas,” hearing memories from various fans from various teams where he played. He also had time to congratulate the man who shares his name for this Hall of Fame achievement.
“I know he was a great ballplayer and a good kid. He had a lot of power,” Thomas said of Thomas.
“Between the two of us we have over 800 home runs,” Thomas added with a smile. “That’s not too bad.”
The two Frank Thomases actually met during the 1994 All-Star Game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.
“I walked in the clubhouse and he said, ‘You are big,’ and I said, ‘Not as big as you,’” said Thomas, who stood at 6-3, 200 pounds, of the Big Hurt, who reached 6-5, 270. “I told him, ‘I get about 20-25 bubble gum cards of yours every week.’ He said, ‘I’m getting quite a few of yours too.’ I said, ‘Good. Keep my name in the public eye.’”
Although his role was as a former player signing autographs, Thomas thoroughly enjoyed being part of the other Frank Thomas’ memorable weekend.
“It’s great. You can talk baseball to anyone. Even if they don’t like baseball, they’ll like to listen,” Thomas said. “I’m really enjoying this. The people are great.”
You are Aaron Rowand, a 21-year-old first-round draft pick in 1998, having hit .342 with five homers and 32 RBIs with Hickory after joining the White Sox, appearing at your first big league Spring Training in 1999.
Being that it was the first Spring Training he attended of any kind, Rowand arrived in camp about four or five days early. He walked into the White Sox clubhouse, and as Rowand remembered, there was nobody there “but one large individual sitting in the corner” better known as Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas.
“I was nervous because I had been watching Frank since his rookie year,” said Rowand, who was in Cooperstown this past weekend to celebrate Thomas’ induction. “Going through college, I admired everything that he did and the kind of player he was.
“Obviously he’s Big Hurt. He’s 300 pounds, 6-foot-15 inch individual. He had his head in his locker. I didn’t say anything to him. I sat in my locker, put my stuff in my locker and started unpacking my stuff.”
Rowand was facing the locker, it’s 4 of 5 o’clock in the afternoon. All of a sudden, “I get a big paw on the back of my shoulder. I looked over and up at him.”
“He said, ‘Hey, you had one heck of a year last year. I’m really looking forward to being your teammate. You are going to be up here with us’ and this, that and the other,” said Rowand of his first encounter with Thomas. “Being a 21 year old kid, in a Major League clubhouse, with arguably one of the best players in the game, to have him come up and say something to you, it meant the world to me.
“From that moment on, even through that camp and the other camps that I went through, he was always, always there for a word of encouragement: whether it was how I was supposed to do things, the way the big leaguers do things or where to be so that I’m not on the wrong field, stuff like that.
“It meant the world to me at the time and he’s been one of my closest friends honestly ever since,” Rowand said. “He was a mentor to me from Day 1. Before I ever knew him, he came and introduced himself to me. And obviously the rest speaks for itself, the kind of individual he is and player he was.”
Rowand volunteered this story to illustrate Thomas, the Hall of Fame person.
“To have the honor to be able to play with him for five years, it’s one of the highlights of my career,” Rowand said. “And you are kind of at a loss for words about the kind of person … .
“He’s a big man but his presence is even bigger. It rubs off on people. Like I said, it’s a real honor to be able to be his teammate.”
I had the chance to talk with White Sox director of player development Nick Capra, who made a stopover in Chicago today. Here are his takes on a few prospects.
Courtney Hawkins struggled through his first season in the Carolina League last year, hitting just .178 with 160 strikeouts over 383 at-bats, albeit with 19 homers, 16 doubles and 62 RBIs.
The White Sox top pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft clearly has adjusted during his second season with Class A Winston-Salem. The left fielder is hitting .268 with seven homers and 30 RBIs.
On Hawkins solid ’14 start at Winston-Salem
“It’s just the experience of being around the league again and Courtney starting to learn himself a little bit more. He’s more patient. He’s not swinging the bat before the ball is out of the pitcher’s hand. He’s recognizing pitches. He’s just having a lot more quality at-bats.”
On Hawkins never doubting himself after last year’s struggles
“The kid has never failed before and I think he still has the mindset that he hasn’t failed but he’s been humbled a little bit by the fact that his numbers in certain areas weren’t very good last year. But I think he’s dedicating himself to make things better. To listen more, to learn more. He’s more mature than he was last year at this time.
“He’s still a work in progress. I’ll tell you what the kid has improved, he’s in left field now. He’s made some really nice plays in left field. He looks like an above average defender in the outfield. He’s doing many more things better this year.”
Tyler Danish, who doesn’t turn 20 until Sept. 12, has a 3-0 record with a 0.64 ERA over six starts for Class A Kannapolis. The right-hander has fanned 22 over 32 innings pitched and has limited the opposition to a .205 average. He was the White Sox second round pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and worked last year for Bristol and Kannapolis.
On Danish’s impressive 2014 start at Kannapolis
“What you see out of Tyler is what you get. He’s still learning. He’s still getting better. He’s got a lot of movement in the zone. He’s going to be a guy that we will have to challenge a little bit more. When that time comes, I’m sure he’ll be ready for it.”
On Danish getting promoted to a higher level this year
“That’s a possibility, yeah.”
On Danish’s composure
“You don’t see too many young kids like that even coming out of high school. I hate to use the analogy of (Mark) Buehrle, Buehrle had such a great mentality but this kid is pretty close to the same mentality. He doesn’t let things faze him. There are not a lot of highs and lows. He’s always that even keel player. I wish we had a bunch of them like that.”
Erik Johnson has made two starts for Triple-A Charlotte since being optioned to the Minors following a rough five-start stretch with the White Sox.
On Johnson trying to regain his form with Charlotte
“I saw his start yesterday and he looks good. Again, it’s just about pounding the strike zone with your pitches. Pound the strike zone with strikes with all your pitches. He’s getting a chance to go down and work on it now. Continue to get him better.”
On trying to figure out Johnson’s velocity drop
“We continue to talk about it. I don’t know if anyone ever really has that answer. We can speculate on what’s going on. Mechanically he doesn’t look much different than he has in the past. I don’t know if he’s feeling for pitches at times. I don’t know. I don’t have that answer.’
“He looked better yesterday. Velocity isn’t where it was last year. Hopefully it comes.
More to come from Capra over the next few days on whitesox.com
Paul Konerko and Jeff Samardzija have been tied together as part of the Crosstown Cup White Sox/Cubs rivalry since Samardzija hit the White Sox captain in the left side of the face with a pitch in the third inning of a May 18, 2012 contest at Wrigley Field.
With that unfortunate moment now well in their past, it seemed only fitting that Samardzija would present Konerko with a retirement gift from the Cubs prior to Tuesday’s contest in Konerko’s last game at Wrigley.
“It was kind of fitting that he gave it to me and he’s doing great right now,” said Konerko of Samardzija. “Good for him.”
“I was asked to do it and jumped on the opportunity right away,” Samardzija said. “When the whole thing went down when I hit him, the first thing I said was it’s the worst guy it could happen to because I respect him more than anyone in this game.”
Konerko was presented with the No. 14 from the Wrigley Field scoreboard, representing his jersey number. He is certainly not on any sort of retirement tour and isn’t looking for gifts at each final stop. But Konerko definitely appreciated the pregame gesture.
“That was cool. Classy move by them. I mean I certainly didn’t expect it and it’s really cool that they gave me it,” Konerko said. “That’ll definitely go up in the house somewhere. You grow up watching games on TV at Wrigley Field and you know the history.
“The fact that you can go out and play your career and at the end of it you’re at a place like that where if you do something at the place, it’s pretty neat. It’s definitely not lost on me how cool that is. I definitely took it in, and that was nice.”
A healthy dose of respect also exists between the presenter and recipient Tuesday.
“You talk about losing two guys in the game like [Derek] Jeter and Konerko, it’s tough. It’s bad for the game,” Samardzija said. “We love to see those guys and how long they played and we’d love to see them keep playing. Outstanding man, and hopefully he has a strong year to end it and enjoys it too and enjoys the run he had and soaks it all in.”
“He’s a good guy. He’s doing great,” said Konerko of Samardzija. “I’m a fan of his as far as the way he pitches and he’s aggressive out there and he swings the bat well on top of it. I don’t know him well; I’ve met him a few times off the field but you know his teammates really like him and he’s respected over there. The guys that are with him every day, they’re not going to be wrong on that stuff.”
Chris Sale would like nothing more than to forget about his four starts made against the Indians during the 2013 season.
But it was difficult for this Cy Young-caliber hurler to even find an offseason escape from the 0-4 head-to-head record, 8.61 ERA and the six home runs and 34 hits allowed over 23 innings. When Sale took to the golf course during the past 3½ months at Worthington Country Club in Bonita Springs, Fla., where he is a member, the Indians’ drubbing followed him to the fairways and the green.
“It’s a funny story. The head pro, Don Tracy, he is a Cleveland fan,” Sale explained. “He was a fan before there were any fans.
“So going to play golf this offseason was bittersweet. I knew I was going to have a great time and play on a great course. But I also knew I was going to hear about it.”
When asked if he studied game film to figure out how to handle the Indians in ’14, the southpaw laughed and quickly replied that he burned all of that tape.
“That wasn’t fun,” said Sale, who is 2-4 with a 4.71 ERA lifetime against the Indians. “There was nothing pretty about me pitching vs. Cleveland. I tried to forget it but I still have that taste in my mouth and I’ll do what I can to not let it happen again.”
The White Sox would like to follow Sale’s lead. Cleveland became one of just five teams to claim 17 wins in a season against an opponent since the division era began in 1969. The White Sox dropped their last 14 this season to the Indians and finished at 2-17.