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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.”

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“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.”

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.