Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is entering what could be his final year with the team, wrapping up the five-year, $63 million contract he signed after the 2005 season. ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine sat down with the White Sox's captain in Glendale as the team finished their last day of spring training.
From what you've seen in spring training, is this a championship-caliber team?
Paul Konerko: It's been a good spring for everything involved you want to see, pitchers and hitters; all in all, I think we're in a good place leaving town here. In our division you have a good chance of finishing first if you play well, or finishing fourth because all of the teams seem bunched in with the same kind of talent. I'd be very surprised if anybody ran away with our division.
Almost all of your teammates from the 2005 world championship team are either playing somewhere else or retired. Is this the last gig for the band?
Konerko: Well, if that's the case, let's go out with a bang. We need to get back into the playoffs and make another run at a world championship. Other than that, you really have no control over these things. Everything comes to an end. Teams put groups together for two, three, five years and try to win. The one thing we can say about our group is that we got it done and won a championship. Most of the teams don't. There's really no sad ending -- or bad ending -- to it. When you get a ring out of it, it makes it all worthwhile, and all of us will always have that.
If this is your last year with the White Sox, do you think you'll become retrospective or emotional throughout the season?
Konerko: I think I've been preparing myself and conditioning myself not to do that. Hopefully that holds up. The real answer is, "I don't know." We'll see when we get into the season. Sometimes things hit you that you don't see coming. In my head I've been trying to get myself to say, "It's just another year" whether it's my last one or not. You really don't want more baggage than you have to in this game, but [emotion] may hit me at some time. I'll just have to wait and see.
Do you like the White Sox's chances of winning?
Konerko: I like our club. You have to like our pitching -- it looks like one of the better staffs in our league. Hitting-wise, we don't have a Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols, but I think we are pretty balanced. During the season I think you'll see our 8 or 9 hitter be the hottest guy on our team. Top to bottom, we have a nice balance. If we continue to have that in our lineup, I think we'll be able to wear down other teams, and that's based on having a pretty deep lineup.
Will the White Sox's defense be better in 2010?
Konerko: I hope we are. I would go out on a limb and say we are going to be better than last year. I know that's not saying much because we were very not good last year. Our pitching staff is very good, but we can't give other teams 30-32 outs per game. Normally defense doesn't cost teams divisions, but last year, for us, that might have been the case.
Do you like the new players, and do you think there's good makeup on this ballclub?
Konerko: There's a genuine feeling of pulling for your teammates that I've been able to detect this spring. It seems like a nice mixture of personalities. Nobody is saying, "OK, let's see how that guy acts." Everyone has blended together and that's good because we're going to need that. We're not a good enough team to be pulling in different directions. We'll need everyone pulling together to help us win.
What will it be like Opening Day with Mark Buehrle once again on the mound?
Konerko: There's a familiarity and a continuity there for both of us. I love it when Buehrle starts. He keeps you alert because of his quick pace. It kind of helps you on Opening Day because you don't have much time to think about anything else. That's going to help me control my emotions as well. If it's my last one here, I'll just try to go out and enjoy it.
Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com.