He has found a new outlet for his competitive nature and it’s helped Paul Konerko to seamlessly transition into retirement after 16 seasons with the White Sox.
Back in town to have his number retired on Saturday afternoon, the legendary White Sox captain said Friday he doesn’t regret his decision and only misses friends from 21 professional seasons.
Aside from family, business and golf, Konerko has a new old hobby to thank for a busy lifestyle -- playing hockey. Konerko, who grew up in Rhode Island, routinely played hockey over the winter, including attending Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp in March. Eight months in, Konerko said he’s busier in retirement than he imagined possible.
“I don’t miss (baseball) at all,” Konerko said. “I miss some of the people. But when I watch a game on TV, there’s not one shred of me that's like, ‘I wish I was doing that.’ My thoughts are like, ‘I did that.’
[SHOP: Buy Paul Konerko memorabilia]
“For seven months it just dominates your life. Every minute, the whole day, every day, it's just baseball. I certainly don’t have that going on but I have a lot of things going on in a given day.”
“There’s definitely been a couple times where I’ve been like, ‘This retirement stuff, people are full of it that say this is easy.’ There are definitely moments of stress and business to where you’re like, ‘Why am I grinding away, I thought I was supposed to be retired?’ I definitely have a lot of things going on that keep me sharp.”
Konerko brought his sharp wit back with him during a 30-minute media session Friday. From November to December, Konerko said he played a “ton” of pickup hockey in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Same as he said last September, Konerko doesn’t intend to return to baseball unless he’s absolutely committed, which he doesn’t foresee any time soon because of his young children. Konerko said he has been offered jobs as a media analyst but has no interest.
Asked how he felt upon returning to the park for the first time, Konerko said he’s pretty calm and headed straight for the refurbished home clubhouse. One difference he noticed is not worrying about Friday’s game and what he needed to accomplish to help the White Sox win.
“I wanted to see the changes they made in here and why the hell they had to wait ‘til I left,” Konerko said. “I think all the changes (look) great. It’s amazing they did it all in one offseason and it looks like they got it right. It looks like a totally different place in there. I wanted to see that.”
“To drive in and not be thinking (about baseball), that’s probably the odd thing because you’re coming in like a civilian, just hanging out. It’s a little uncomfortable. It’s not something I’m gonna make a habit out of.”
Konerko, who already has a statute of his likeness in left field, is excited to have his number retired if only because it places him alongside big names Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk.
Playing hockey at Gretzky’s Las Vegas-based camp in March had the same appeal for Konerko, who believes he was in the upper third in terms of talent among players. Konerko said he was mostly anonymous among campers who spent three-to-four hours per day on the ice, playing in multiple hour-long games each day. While his team didn’t make the playoffs (four teams did), Konerko shared an experience with Gretzky, who scored a goal for his team to tie a game in the closing seconds. There were no fights, “but definitely some pushing and shoving,” he said.
Konerko scored one regulation goal, a penalty goal and another in a shootout during the camp.
He expects a similar experience Saturday night when he and his wife attend Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference Finals between the Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks and joked he’ll have to keep his speech short.
“I was a fantasy camper, which was an awesome thing,” Konerko said. “It was tough. I was skating a lot leading up to that in March. I was playing two-to-three times a week, tough games and really laying it out there, which is nice because you don’t have to worry about getting hurt or anything. It’s just fun.
“Some guys get out of the game and like their switch is still on for a few years wanting to do it. I feel like mine, it was pretty much almost probably to the months being close together. When I was supposed to be done is when I was done.”