For the first time since 1998, Paul Konerko won't be in the White Sox Opening Day lineup. And that's the way he wants it.
Konerko returned to the White Sox on a one-year deal, and 2014 will be his final season in the majors. But he came back to the White Sox with the idea he wouldn't be an everyday player, instead moving into a mentoring role while getting in primarily against left-handers.
Minnesota's Ricky Nolasco is a righty, so despite the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day Konerko isn't penciled in to Robin Ventura's lineup.
"There is a plan of roles and when guys play and when they don’t play. You just follow it," Konerko said on Sunday. "This game tomorrow, although it’s Opening Day, if I’m not going to start the 20th game against Ricky Nolasco, or whoever is on the mound, then it doesn’t matter that it’s the first game.
"I’m always aware of Opening Day, I think everybody is. I can remember them all, all that kind of stuff. But I’ve also been lucky to start 16 of them, 15 here and one somewhere else. So I’ve had my day in the sun with Opening Days."
It's a showing of ruthless pragmatism for Konerko, who said there's been "no emotion" in making the decision to sit on Monday. But Opening Day starter Chris Sale seemed surprised Konerko won't take the field with him, given all the first baseman has given to the city and franchise since coming to Chicago in 1999.
"He’s probably the only person in Chicago, in the country, in the world, that thinks he shouldn’t be out there," Sale said. "I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes but I think he should be out there. I think with what he’s done for this city, what he’s done for this team, who he’s been throughout his entire career, I think he’s kind of earned that. But what he says goes. If he doesn’t want to be out there, it’s his prerogative, it’s his decision. It’s tough."
As things stand on Sunday, it'll be Jose Abreu at first base and Adam Dunn at DH -- just as the plan Konerko and the White Sox devised calls for against a right-hander. It'll be Abreu's first game with the White Sox -- Sale, in addressing the Konerko situation, allowed that "obviously, Abreu is really good" -- and Dunn has eight Opening Day home runs in his career, tied for the most in major league history.
But since this'll be the first time this millennium Konerko won't start on Opening Day, the decision to sit him wasn't an easy one for manager Robin Ventura.
"When you go over how you're going to do this and how you're going to make it work, he made it clear this is kind of what he signed up to do," Ventura explained Sunday morning at U.S. Cellular Field. "It's more of respect to him that you're not just going to put him out there just to put him out there. And he respects the game, he respects his teammates and the conversation him and I had he wanted this to happen this way because if he wasn't going to start 10 games in against the same guy then he didn't want to do it on Opening Day.
"I think that's just the kind of teammate he is and the respect the the has for his own teammates and our organization to do it the right way. That's the way it's going to be tomorrow."
Something could always change between now and Monday that gets Konerko into the starting lineup for one final Opening Day. Konerko is entering his 16th year with the White Sox, and while playing Abreu and Dunn may be the right move it also may not be the popular one.
But the call for Konerko to sit on Opening Day has been coming together for a while, and it would take a last-second change of heart for it to be reversed. And Konerko hasn't been lobbying to start -- in fact, he's been lobbying to sit on Opening Day, since it's fitting with the plan.
"When you hear it from him and the way it's delivered from him, this is the right decision," Ventura said. "And he understands that. But it doesn't mean he can't come in and win the game later in the game."