Konerko, new hitting coach get on same page
Veteran talks to Steverson about how he fits in plans for his 16th and final season
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There were a few important offseason phone calls Paul Konerko made before officially returning for his 16th and final season with the White Sox.
One of those calls went to new hitting coach Todd Steverson, which in turn, produced a two-and-half hour lunch meeting between the two in Arizona. It wasn't so much that Konerko worried about Steverson's approach or how he would handle him as a hitter.
The captain simply wanted to make sure that he wouldn't be crossing any disrespectful boundaries in this new part-time player/full-time mentor role. That talk left Konerko without any concerns.
"Maybe 20 percent of it was about how I would work or how I would be comfortable," Konerko said of his conversation with Steverson. "Most of it was just in this role that I'm going to be in if I don't play as much, there will be down time on the bench and in the clubhouse and in planes and in hotels.
"Guys talk the game. They talk baseball and inevitably it gets back to hitting a lot of times. I didn't want to be in an uncomfortable situation where I felt like … . I respect and always respected coaches and always respected authority. The last thing I wanted to have was to worry about because of my age and all that, where I felt there was a conflict there.
"So, I wanted to make sure that we were up front and just got a vibe on that early," Konerko said. "I didn't want to get here and then find out that it was something that I was uncomfortable with. That will be a bigger portion of the year. There were a couple of meetings, phone calls that were bigger pieces to the puzzle of coming back, and that was certainly one of the biggest ones. If nothing else, that spurred me on."
Steverson agreed with Konerko that the conversation went well.
They talked about a lot of things by Steverson's recollection -- baseball, Konerko's career and Konerko's new role. That role certainly wasn't for Steverson to define, but the talk moved in the direction of the role Konerko expected to assume, and how Steverson wanted to go about his business as the hitting coach.
That meeting wasn't necessary for Steverson to understand the importance to a younger team of Konerko, one of the most prolific players in White Sox history. He has pretty much been there and done that for every situation that could arise.
"Most teams need somebody that has gone through the ringer so to speak," Steverson said. "He's got a ring here. He was here through some of the leaner times, some of the competitive times where it didn't quite make it and then you went through times where you made it and won it all. Then it went back down with more influx of personnel. He has been through a lot of influx of personnel, younger or older.
"Paul has seen the maturation of the organization for 16 years and there's something to be said about experiences and knowledge of them. He brings a strong sense of understanding of the organization to people who haven't been here for a while."
Along with this mutual understanding, Steverson got Konerko pumped up for his own final season at the plate.
"He said, 'Hey man, you are 12, 15 months away from being one of the best hitters in the league. It's there. We have to clean up some stuff,'" said Konerko of Steverson's encouraging words. "He made me feel good about my own self and then the other stuff I felt comfortable that he's very open and open-minded about every player talking hitting. There is no wrong answer.
"Talk. It's ok. There are answers to be found everywhere if you are looking for them. That's kind of how I've always been with hitting. I don't have an ego about it. I can ask anybody, 'What do you see up there or what do you think?' I definitely have my beliefs, but I feel like if a hitter is finding answers somewhere to get better, that can never be a bad thing. The coach can't take that personally. That certainly wasn't his attitude. He felt the same way."
In just a short time on the job, the highly-positive, energetic Steverson has struck a chord with White Sox hitters by keeping it simple. The coach is coneentrating on how and what a hitter should be swinging rather than on mechanics.
A man with 434 homers and a .281 career average like Konerko is no different for Steverson, in that "you keep them out of their own way." His job is knowing the triggers to remind hitters of their good qualities when they lose them, and the hitter's job is make quick adjustments.
Moving from a full-time to a part-time role and keeping that good feel with less weekly at-bats stand as the only differences for Konerko.
"Paulie has been hitting for years and years and years. He has an idea of what he wants to do. Communicate it with me and I can watch it," Steverson said. "We'll keep it as simplistic as possible with him so he can still be a good force in the box without having to go through a long process to get back to zero. He's got that ability. He understands his body."
Through the prime of his career, from basically 27 to 35, Konerko felt lucky to work with hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant Mike Gellinger, who understood how he ticked and were on the same page every day. He's just as charged up to share what he has learned, with Steverson's full support.
"I've already learned from him and he's already helped me since I've been here," Konerko said. "But it was a very good lunch. He could have said less and I would have felt comfortable but the way he talked to me made me feel very comfortable that wouldn't be an issue at all."