Yankee Stadium Farewell to Paul Konerko and Hello to Jose Abreu

Howard Goldin

More than 135,000 attended the three game weekend series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox. The overwhelming majority who left at the conclusion each day were joyful as the Yanks won each of the three games. Each of the three days was exceptionally exciting. Friday’s and Sunday’s games each ended with a walk-off Yankee win, a single by Martin Prado on Friday and three-run 10th inning home run by pinch hitter Brian McCann. The attendees at Saturday’s sold-out house saw a Yankee victory that followed the Joe Torre Day ceremony.

Although the focus was on the Yankees, those at the Stadium also saw something else that was unique, the final major league appearance of the 38 year-old first sacker Paul Konerko in New York and the first appearance of rookie sensation Jose Abreu in New York.

Yankee Stadium is a special place for Konerko. It is the site where the Rode Island native was introduced to MLB when he attended his first game at the age of six. He said the Yankees were “all I knew as a kid.”

In 1994, he was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft. He played 81 games in the National League in 1997-98 with the Dodgers and then the Reds before being traded to the White Sox, with whom he still plays.  

Now in his 18th season in the big leagues, Konerko has compiled a record that should allow him to be considered for entrance in the Hall of Fame in the future. The six-time All-Star has a .280 batting average, more than 2,300 hits, 1,150 runs scored, 1,400 runs batted in, 4,000 total bases and currently 441 home runs.

Although his retirement tour is much less noticed than Derek Jeter’s, the Yankees showed respect for his accomplishments. A video tribute was presented on the outfield video board before Sunday’s contest and he was presented with a base that was signed by the members of the Yankees.

Konerko expressed his appreciation of the remembrance after the game, “As far as the whole retirement thing, it was the highlight of the year for me. I went to my first game at Yankee Stadium when I was six years old. [The Yankees were] all I knew as a kid. The fact that I’m getting a gift for something I did on the fieldin all of the time between then and now is mind-boggling really. A classy move by them [Yankees]. You don’t expect it, and to have Derek out there as the guy giving it to me, that’s pretty cool, even for someone who tries not to pay attention to that stuff.”

As one door closes, another opens. Although the Sox lost all three games, the fans had their first in the Bronx had their first live look at Jose Abreu. The native of Cuba showed the Yankees and their fans why he is the 2014 Rookie of the Year favorite. He batted 6 for 12 with 2 runs scored, 4 runs batted in and a home run in the three contests.

The 27 year-old is a veteran of 10 seasons in the Cuban League, where he compiled a career batting average of .341. If his first year in pro ball is any indication of his future, he may also decades from now be considered as a Hall of Fame inductee. He is currently batting .308. He has blasted 33 home runs and driven in 94 runs in 115 games with the White Sox.

The veteran and the rookie have both added luster to the history of the Chicago White Sox.