NEW YORK — The farewell tour has never been his priority, but Paul Konerko said Sunday’s tribute by the New York Yankees is one he won’t forget.
A Rhode Island native, Konerko, who will retire at the end of the 2014 season, has fond memories of growing up a Yankees fan. So Sunday’s ceremony, which included a brief tribute on the video board and an exchange with Derek Jeter at home plate, meant more to Konerko than he initially believed it would.
“As far as the whole retirement thing, it's the highlight of the year for me so far,” Konerko said. “The first game I ever went to as a kid was Yankee Stadium when I was six years old. That's all I ever knew as a kid. The fact that I'm getting a gift for something I did on the field in all the time between that and now is mind-boggling. You just don't think about things like that. A classy move by them, you don't expect it, and to have Derek out there as the guy giving it to me, that's pretty cool. For someone who tries not to pay attention to that stuff, because it's the Yankees and my childhood dealt with the Yankees and any game I went to was a Yankee game, all those things combined, off the field stuff, that's the highlight for me so far.”
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Fifteen minutes before the first pitch, the Yankees announced it was the White Sox slugger’s 18th and final season in the major leagues as highlights of Konerko’s career played on the big screen behind center field. Then Jeter, who is also in his final season, walked to home plate and presented Konerko with a base signed by the entire Yankees team.
Whereas Jeter has received gifts everywhere on his farewell tour, Konerko’s last season hasn’t received as much time in the spotlight, in part because that’s how Konerko prefers it.
The Yankees are the second team to honor Konerko’s career so far this season. In May the Cubs presented Konerko with the numbers 1 and 4 from the Wrigley Field scoreboard.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said that’s more of a function of which teams the White Sox have played so far. The White Sox play all of their final road series against American League Central foes next month.
“The teams he has played against a lot in the division, they realize it,” Ventura said. “Players on the other team do realize it. You see the reaction he gets in (batting practice) and things like that. But I don’t know if other teams do it as much if you’re not within their division. Derek’s has taken on a whole different way. His is just different than everybody else’s.”