Near the end of the 2010 season, Paul Konerko dug in at the plate against Twins starting pitcher Carl Pavano in the first inning.
He was hit in the mouth by a Pavano pitch and dropped to the ground.
It was a horrifying scene at erstwhile U.S. Cellular Field, but Konerko picked himself up, dusted off, checked for missing teeth and trotted to first base.
In his next at-bat, the former White Sox great homered off Pavano.
Konerko was a tough player, no doubt about it, and all established major leaguers are able to grind through marathon seasons with injuries that would shut down your average human.
The upcoming season is going to be a much different kind of physical and mental challenge for players.
“I don’t think anyone feels 100 percent comfortable going in,” Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said Friday. “We are dealing with a pandemic in this country.”
COVID-19 shut down baseball on March 12, two weeks before the regular season was scheduled to begin.
Commissioner Rob Manfred implemented a 60-game season Tuesday night, and the Sox will be back at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 1 to get ready.
Even though baseball is played outside and there is room to socially distance, the virus is a major concern.
“You see how different things can change with the virus over a short amount of time,” White Sox catcher James McCann said Friday. “We don’t really know what tomorrow holds. You see what’s going on in states like Texas and Florida right now. You just hope and pray that things start to slow down. But I think we are at a point now, the point of no return. If we don’t start now, I don’t think it’s possible to get a season in.”
Sox players, coaches and staff members will be tested for the coronavirus before taking the field for a second “spring training.” Giolito and McCann are keeping their fingers crossed.
“My biggest thing going in is I hope that we all pass that intake, that we are able to come together as a team, we don’t have to worry about any key players,” Giolito said. “Honestly, I don’t want to see anyone in our organization testing positive and having to go through that. That’s my biggest thing as we get there.”
Major-league baseball provided players with a safety manual that is “70-plus pages,” according to Giolito.
“I think the measures the league and union have taken to create the health and safety protocol, it’s the best we are going to get,” McCann said. “We can’t sit around and wait and think the virus is going to disappear. The virus is going to be here.”
There is limited physical contact in baseball, but McCann is going to be squatting behind home plate with a hitter to his side and an umpire right behind him.
The Sox’s catcher said everyone needs to be smart away from the field to help prevent an outbreak.
“The fact of the matter is that in our profession, we are around each other, breathing on each other, sweating on each other,” McCann said. “I don’t care how many safety measures are put in place. As a catcher, I have an umpire behind me and a hitter in the box. That’s not six feet apart from each other.
“To be able to have the trust in each other and pitchers throwing the ball, and if he’s been out the night before doing something and catches something, the next thing you know the entire infield is fielding groundballs off the bat and touching the same thing pitchers have been touching. There are so many unknowns. I think the biggest thing is preaching to each other to control what you can control. Be smart and take care of the stuff off the field as best as you can.”