White Sox

White Sox: No regrets in retirement for Konerko but plenty of hockey

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White Sox: No regrets in retirement for Konerko but plenty of hockey

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.”

[MORE: Samardzija strikes out nine in win as Sox snap skid]

“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.”

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

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USA TODAY

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

One Jimenez just isn't enough for the White Sox.

The White Sox signed the younger brother of top prospect Eloy Jimenez this weekend. Enoy Jimenez is a 17-year-old infielder, and the 21-year-old outfielder ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball was on hand for his brother's big moment.

Eloy figures to hit the big leagues early next season, though it will likely be a while longer before his teenage brother could do the same. Still, they're likely hoping for the chance to play together one day.

According to this pretty exhaustive list from MLB.com, four sets of brothers have played together on the White Sox: Homer and Ted Blankenship in the 1920s, Dick and Hank Allen in the 1970s, Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 2003 and 2004 and John and Jordan Danks in 2012.

Should we be getting ready for the fifth pair?

Update: Our Chuck Garfien found this video of Enoy taking some cuts with his big brother — all decked out in White Sox gear, too.

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.