White Sox honor retiring Konerko with statue

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CHICAGO (AP) — Paul Konerko wasn't quite sure what to expect when the Chicago White Sox honored him.

He got more than he bargained for on his way to retirement.

The White Sox unveiled a bronze statue and announced his No. 14 will be retired next season on Saturday.

They also presented him his grand slam ball from the 2005 World Series and paid tribute through a series of videos that included well wishes from current and former teammates, the Bulls' Derrick Rose, the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews, retiring Yankees star Derek Jeter and Metallica's James Hetfield in a ceremony before the White Sox faced the Kansas City Royals.

"They were just on the money with everything," Konerko said after Chicago won 5-4. "The place felt really small. It felt like (the fans) were right on top of you. It's not like I needed anything. It's been good. That was kind of the icing on the cake."

Konerko said he did not know about the statue or the ball beforehand. There were times during the 35-minute presentation where he thought he might break down, but he was able to stay composed.

Playing after that was difficult, though.

Konerko acknowledged he was distracted, and he wound up going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts, then was replaced prior to the top of the seventh by Andy Wilkins. Konerko took his spot at first base before being called back to the dugout and walked off to a standing ovation. He was summoned out for a curtain call.

He is expected to be in the lineup on Sunday, then call it a career after 16 seasons in Chicago and 18 in the majors.

A six-time American League All-Star, Konerko ranks second on the White Sox's list in homers, RBIs and games played. So it's hardly a surprise he got saluted on his way out.

And what a ceremony it was.

Near the end, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf pointed toward the left-field concourse. Dozens of black and white balloons were set loose, revealing a bronze statue of Konerko waving his right fist, just as he did when he hit a grand slam against Houston in the 2005 World Series.

Moments later, team broadcaster and emcee Ken Harrelson announced Konerko's number will be retired in 2015.

The sold out crowd started chanting "Paulie! Paulie!" the moment family, friends and former teammates took their seats in the infield, and the roars continued throughout the ceremony.

Along with the cheers and chants and video tributes, there were some impressive gifts.

Among them were a painting, a frame with baseballs and the No. 14, and a 1963 Fender Stratocaster, fitting for a player who keeps a guitar by his locker.

But one of the most unique gifts came right before the White Sox unveiled the statue.

A video showing Konerko presenting Reinsdorf the ball from the final out of the 2005 World Series at the championship rally — a moment the chairman said at the time was the most emotional of his life — had just finished.

Reinsdorf told Konerko he probably deserved it more but wasn't about to give it back. Instead, he had something else for his slugger.

Out walked Chris Claeys, a film editor from Chicago. He caught Konerko's dramatic grand slam off Houston's Chad Qualls in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, and on Saturday, he gave him the ball.

It had been on display at Harry Caray's Restaurant in Chicago for nine years, but when the White Sox contacted him a few weeks ago, he knew what he had to do. There was no money exchanged, Claeys said. He just got to sit in a suite with family and friends and received an autographed picture from Konerko, who thanked him from presenting the ball.

"I feel really good about it," Claeys said. "It's really been a prized possession. Paul Konerko is such a cool guy. He's so respectable and he's played here 16 years."

Moments later, he became the ninth member of the organization honored with a statue, including one shared by Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio sharing one and another of Charles Comiskey. He will also be the 10th White Sox player to have his uniform number retired.

After the ceremony ended, Konerko's three young children (Nicholas, Owen and Amelia) threw out first pitches. Then, it was time for their dad to play ball for one of the final times.

Before that, it was time for current and past teammates to reminisce.

Former White Sox player Greg Norton told this story.

"He had a personal trainer and we had a conditioning drill in spring training, and I think we had a 480-yard shuttle," Norton said. "He came back talking all this trash that he was in great shape and that he was gonna beat me. ... Everybody went through the conditioning drill. They waited for the two of us. I absolutely destroyed him in the shuttle race, and to this day, he says he slipped and that's the only reason I beat him."

Third baseman Conor Gillaspie mentioned the impact Konerko had on him.

"What he did on the field, everybody already knows," he said. "But what a lot of people don't know is the awesome things he's shared with me the last couple years that's left a long-lasting imprint of things that are gonna help me down the road."

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