Pride of the South Side

There’s no doubt that Paul Konerko will go down as one of the most revered players in White Sox history. In 2005, the first baseman was an instrumental member of the team that brought the World Series title back to the South Side for the first time in 88 years; now, he’s quickly approaching Frank Thomas’ club record of 448 home runs. Three months into the season, the 36-year-old five-time All-Star is on pace for one of his best seasons yet, and a likely selection for the July 10 All-Star Game in Kansas City (broadcast on Fox at 7:30 pm CST), which happens to be one of his favorite Major League destinations. We spoke with the Sox captain before a recent game against the Cleveland Indians about the secret of his longevity, the experience of playing in a perfect game, and some of his favorite spots in Chicago.

The 2010 and 2011 seasons were among the strongest of your career, and you’re off to an amazing start this season [as of publication, Konerko was batting .366 with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs, and he had been named American League Player of the Week twice]. Usually once guys are in their mid-30s their productivity drops off, but that hasn’t happened with you. What do you attribute that to? The older you get, the harder you have to work on your body and keep in shape. You have to pay attention to things that you don’t have to pay attention to when you’re younger, as far as what you eat, what you drink, the rest you get. ... Some days you spend more time getting ready for a game than you actually do playing, but you have to have the mindset that it’s fun. As far as the results go, you work hard and you gain knowledge as you play. So every year you try to incorporate that and get better. I try not to think about it too much. You just have to work hard throughout your career, and then once you’re done you’ll have the chance to look back on it and reflect.

You’ve played in two perfect games: Mark Buehrle’s back in 2009 and Philip Humber’s in April of this season. What’s it been like to be a part of that experience? Well, the first one, I was actually the designated hitter in that game, which was a totally different experience— I wasn’t on that side of the ball, playing defense. So that was just fun to watch, and I didn’t have that much responsibility, other than my at-bats. But the last one here with Phil, it was pretty intense, especially as the game went on. A perfect game is much different than a no-hitter. With a no-hitter, you can have a walk, you can have an error, and it stays intact. But with a perfect game, none of that can happen. So as we got into the eighth and ninth innings, defensively, there was a lot of energy. It was very similar to playing in a very tight World Series or playoff game. You’re very dialed-in, and trying to stay relaxed, but you’re at a very heightened level because you know there’s so much on the line.

What do you think of the cross-town rivalry with the Cubs? I’ve played in a number of series over the years and it’s always good. The games are different from normal regular season games. Not like a playoff game, either, but somewhere in between the two. ... You always look to see when those six games a year are on the schedule, because you know they’re going to be exciting.

Does your family live with you during the season? Do your kids have any favorite activities around Chicago? Yeah, once my kids get out of school they’re around for pretty much the whole summer, and then they have to go back toward the end of the season. They love going to all the museums, for sure. My older one especially really likes going to the Museum of Science and Industry (57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, 773-684-1414, www.msichicago.org) and the Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-922-9410, www.fieldmuseum.org). And we live pretty close to North Avenue Beach, so they like going there. That’s one thing about Chicago: There’s not a shortage of things to do for kids.

What are some of your favorite spots in the city? Well, unfortunately because we play so many night games, we don’t get to experience the city quite as much as we’d like. I think during the summer, Chicago’s probably the best city in the country. But there are a few little spots in Lincoln Park, near where we live, that we like. There’s a sushi place called Sai Café (2010 N. Sheffield Ave., 773-472- 8080, www.saicafe.com) that’s really good, and another place called Pasta Palazzo (1966 N. Halsted St., 773-248- 1400, www.pastapalazzo.com) that’s good. You’re on the road for half the season. What are some of your favorite destinations for away series? Seattle is probably my favorite town that we go to. It’s a beautiful city. The weather is always good— mild. You might get some rain, but it’s never too hot or too cold. There are tons of good restaurants. The culture there is just a little bit different, it doesn’t revolve so much around sports. The people are really nice. With the food and the shopping, I can always find a little spot there that’s really cool. … In terms of places in our division, I think Kansas City is underrated. It can be very, very hot, which is not good, but as far as the people and the restaurants and the shopping go, it’s a cool spot.