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WSI News - News Watch

No satisfaction, guaranteed

March 21, 2002

By Doug Padilla, Chicago Sun-Times

PHOENIX--Only Paul Konerko could make a .500 spring batting average sound like a career-threatening slump.

''There are a number of things that can get you hits down here,'' said the White Sox first baseman, who is 26-for-52 in Cactus League play. ''You'll get a false sense of security if you think you're hitting well.''

With thoughts like that, Konerko might never be satisfied. Not that Sox manager Jerry Manuel minds.

''That's Paul,'' Manuel said. ''I like the way he's gone about his business this spring. He's always been a serious player. He's somewhat of a perfectionist. He's never satisfied, and I like that about him.''

That Konerko still looks for an edge amuses Manuel. Konerko only leads the spring's hottest-hitting team in batting average, hits, total bases (38) and RBI (19). And in 52 at-bats, he has struck out just four times, impressive for a power hitter.

Sure, Konerko likes the numbers. He just refuses to get excited about them. He still is trying to perfect his swing with the season less than two weeks away.

''Everybody uses spring training differently,'' Konerko said. ''When you know you're going to be on a team and you know you're going to be in a lineup, you have the luxury of looking for one certain pitch. It might mean you look bad in other areas. You're practicing.

''Other guys, they might not have that luxury, guys that are trying to make the team or whatever. Then you have to be ready to hit like it's the season. This spring, I'm just trying to do little things to put it all together.''

Konerko might be a tireless worker to refine his physical tools, but Manuel sees Konerko's mental maturity as the secret to his success. Konerko's homer and RBI totals have increased in each of his three years with the Sox, topping out at 31 homers and 99 RBI last season. Manuel has an idea why.

''He knows himself,'' Manuel said. ''Every hitter that works as hard as he does continues to improve and learn. He is still really growing. When he first got here, he tried to hit 30 home runs in April. Last year, he hit the ball to right field and let all the power come.''

Without the benefit of having Frank Thomas in the lineup, Konerko was looked upon to deliver, and he did--not that it took the sting off a season that started with so many expectations.

''I did some things well last year, but it was a very tough year team-wise,'' Konerko said. ''The season got very long really early. So it was a battle just to go through the whole season and play every game. It's not fun out there when you're losing or even a .500 team when you have the expectations going into the season.

''We ended up with a winning record, but it felt like just a drag the whole year.''

But that's Konerko--never satisfied. He did come up with one scenario in which he might be able to look back at things and smile.

''Until I'm hitting well on a team that goes to the playoffs and goes to the World Series and wins it, I don't think I'll ever be satisfied,'' he said.

His American League-leading .500 spring hasn't even made him optimistic for the upcoming season.

''It's tough to get excited,'' Konerko said. ''I'm not quite excited to leave Tucson yet because I'm still working on some things, and I think I need another week or so where I really feel like I'm ready to go.''



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