It’s odd to think that an 18 year career can be summed up in a single moment, but sometimes that’s just what happens. Those of us that were there to see it will never forget the sound of 40,000 people simultaneously cheering and rising to their feet the moment the ball left the bat. On a cold, rainy, miserable night on the South Side of Chicago, Paul Konerko cemented his place in White Sox history with one swing of the bat.
The White Sox entered the bottom of the seventh inning of game two of the 2005 World Series trailing Houston 4-2. The Sox bats had gone quiet after scoring two runs in the second inning and the seventh didn’t seem to be going much better. With two outs and a runner at second, Tadahito Iguchi drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Then, after a seven pitch battle, a pitch up and in hits Jermaine Dye, or it hit his bat, either way it loads the bases.
Astros manager Phil Garner went to the bullpen to get Chad Qualls to face Paul Konerko. As Qualls finished his warmup pitches, and Konerko strode to the plate, a familiar chant of “Paulie, Paulie, Paulie” broke out among the US Cellular Field faithful.
We were all thinking about it in the back of our minds, whether we want to admit it or not. Sure you might turn to the person next to you and say, “All we need is a base hit to tie this up.” But that’s not what you were really thinking. You just didn’t want to say what you were really thinking about out loud. Better to play it safe and not get greedy and jinx it.
Then, on the very first pitch, the unthinkable happened. When he hit it, I knew it was gone. I sprang to my feet and when it cleared the fence in left field, I jumped into the air with both hands raised and screamed so loud I felt it in my lungs. I jumped into the arms of my Dad and we hugged, jumping up and down. I high fived everyone within reach and shared hugs with total strangers.
Konerko rounded the bases, fist in the air, an uncharacteristic show of emotion from the usually subdued slugger. After he returned to the dugout, the chant of “Paulie, Paulie, Paulie” once again filled the air at 35th and Shields, until the Captain emerged for a curtain call that was met with thunderous applause.
Ozzie Guillen later said that at that moment, “I told my kids, it’s over. The World Series is over. No way we’re gonna lose.” I had the exact same thought.
It doesn’t matter that the Astros tied up the game with two outs in the top of the ninth. Or that it was Scott Podsednik who provided the final heroics with the unlikeliest walk off homer in World Series history. The moment that stays with everyone is Paul Konerko’s grand slam.
That is the moment that defines Konerko’s career in Chicago. There have been plenty of other great moments from Paulie throughout his 16 years on the South Side, but that is the one that everyone will remember. That image of Konerko, with his fist in the air, will live forever in the minds of Sox fans.
When Paul Konerko steps off the field on Sunday, it will be the end of a fantastic career. It won’t come with the fanfare or the trip to the Hall of Fame that will accompany the end of Derek Jeter’s career, but for Sox fans, Konerko is just as important to us as Jeter is to New York.
Konerko is our Captain. He delivered us a World Series. He stayed when he could have left. He has played more games in a White Sox uniform than any player not named Luke Appling. For an entire generation of fans, Paul Konerko IS the Chicago White Sox.
It has been an interesting year for me personally as a Sox fan. In July, my Dad and I made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown to see my childhood Sox hero, Frank Thomas, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now, on Sunday, I will say goodbye to the player that defined the Sox during the time I grew into adulthood. When Konerko first put on a White Sox uniform I was still in high school. Now I am married with a kid of my own.
When I think back on the grand slam, the thing that sticks out to me is that I was able to share that unbelievable moment with my Dad, and I hope that one day I can share in a similar moment with my kids.
So, thank you Paulie, for all the home runs, big hits, division titles, the World Series, but most of all, for the memories. With one swing of the bat you turned a cold, rainy, forgettable fall night, into one of my most cherished moments.