3/1/2013 7:04 P.M. ET
Konerko's exemplary work ethic on display in camp
Entering his 17th season, the vet worked hard this offseason to prepare for '13
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is no "C" sewn onto Paul Konerko's jersey representing his captain's status, because, as Konerko once joked, he doesn't have to talk to officials about specific infractions like his NHL counterparts.
Then again, Konerko doesn't need that designation to stand as one of the most respected men in the White Sox clubhouse. He also doesn't need to deliver rah-rah, inspirational speeches in order to be considered a leader.
Those sentiments are derived by others watching the way Konerko goes about his business.
"You see that guy in here early," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Konerko. "He's in the weight room. He's doing conditioning stuff before most guys are getting here.
"Even I remember, my first couple of Spring Trainings coming to the park, and Harold [Baines] was already coming out of the cage. It wakes you up to what it takes to be good and what it takes for longevity."
This 2013 season marks Konerko's 17th overall and 15th as part of the White Sox. He sits just 34 homers away from taking the career franchise lead from Frank Thomas and needs 159 RBIs to grab the all-time lead in that category.
Much press has already been given to Konerko's 15th Opening Day start on April 1 against the Royals possibly being his last in Chicago, or even his last in Major League Baseball. Instead of trying to guess the future, though, this tale centers on how the soon-to-be 37-year-old Konerko has prepared himself to stay productive as he has advanced in years.
The theory behind Konerko's work is fairly straightforward and holds true in pretty much any walk of life: as you get older, you have to do more.
"You have to eat better and pretty much watch all the stuff you do as it relates to your body," Konerko said. "It just gets more difficult every year.
"So, you don't have to be -- you just know you have to work harder. It's pretty simple. Some of that, though, you have to save your bullets sometimes and make sure you get some rest. But I had a good offseason working out."
Part of the reason for Konerko's success was getting on a solid workout schedule from the offseason's outset in conjunction with White Sox director of conditioning Allen Thomas. They talked almost every day and set out weekly plans, even if Konerko was on vacation.
"Actually, we just stayed very meticulous on what we are trying to accomplish," said Thomas of his work with Konerko. "His goal was not to get old. People are writing him off that this would be his slide year, and he was unbelievable.
"Just communication -- what he was trying to accomplish. His strength gains are as strong as he's felt in a 16-year-plus career. He's ready to rock. He came in, we planned it -- right timing, as any of my guys. They just follow offseason conditioning, and they shouldn't have any problems.
"He's done a fabulous job taking care of his weight issues, where he wanted to be, body fat percentage," Thomas said. "You know how Konerko is? I love him for that. He was great."
Thomas served in the capacity of Konerko's personal trainer from afar, while Konerko had a nutritionist taking care of what he ate. His food intake was predicated on whether he was in a strength phase, power phase or endurance phase in his workout program.
"I got on a good schedule early and kept it through the offseason about as good as I've done it," Konerko said. "You do know, if you don't pay attention to that stuff in the offseason, there's going to be a price to pay later. So I tried to stay on top of that.
"We would kind of go two- or three-day clips where [Thomas] would send me out what he wanted me to do and get back a couple of days later, and he would give me more. When I traveled to places and went on a vacation or went on to another location, I could actually say, 'This is what I'm working with here,' and he would design around what I had to work with, with what I had in front of me. That's good, too."
A great deal of running was a part of Konerko's offseason regimen, giving him a feeling of readiness for Spring Training.
Konerko smiled as he added that being in good physical condition doesn't alleviate the ongoing soreness once baseball returns. But he feels good. The trick is to maintain that feeling throughout the season, when the games move to the forefront.
"What we've had work over the last couple of years is try to do a little bit each day, instead of having three times a week where it's a giant workout," Konerko said. "I seem to respond to that better than to take two to three days of nothing and then have some huge workout.
"It wears on you. You get day games, travel, hotel beds -- all that kind of stuff can. You can come up with every excuse not to do stuff. So, that's the fight, you know, to have that discipline to keep doing it."
After hitting .399 as late as May 27 last year, Konerko batted .264 after the All-Star break. He had another outstanding season, posting a .298 average, 26 homers and 75 RBIs, following two straight seasons with at least a .300 average, 31 homers and 105 RBIs.
This work Konerko put in during the offseason and every day since in Arizona helps reap those rewards, as the captain sets a path for others to follow.
"He doesn't have to say anything," said Ventura of Konerko. "He's not trying to make a big production out of it. It's just the way he goes about his business."