Paul Konerko stroked his 400th career homer last Wednesday, but he doesn’t think he’ll make it to 500. It’s not that he feels incapable, he just doesn’t know whether his body will hold up that long.
Yet Konerko, who is 36, is part of an old man’s revival around baseball.
Derek Jeter is 38 but looks 28. David Ortiz is playing younger than his 36 years. Jamie Moyer, 49, leads the Rockies with a 2.28 ERA through four starts.
“When I hit 300, I didn’t think I could hit 400,’’ Konerko said. “I don’t know. For me personally, as you get closer to the end - I wouldn’t say you work harder, because I always worked hard - but I think you work smarter.
“There’s nothing to leave in the tank. You’re getting to the end of the line, so from preparation and playing the games, you don’t want to leave anything behind. It’s like that last sprint in a race.
“It’s just incredibly more difficult at this age. There are a lot of days you have to trick your mind about the way your body feels.
“It’s going to take you longer to get ready than the actual time to play it. Somehow, you have to make that fun, make that OK in your mind.’’
Ortiz couldn’t agree more. He has lost 25 pounds and is motoring around the bases better than ever. He wants to play two more years, so he’s doing all he can.
“I hate my trainer,’’ Ortiz said with a laugh. “It’s tougher and tougher, but I know if I want to keep playing this game, I have to work extra hard now that I’m older. I used to be able to do things easy, and now it’s hard.
“It’s just what happens when your body has taken a beating for so many years. You just try to prolong it as much as you can because you love playing so much that you never want to give it up.’’
“That’s the thing,’’ Konerko added. “You don’t want to be 55 years old and then say, ‘I think I want to play for the White Sox now.’ This is our moment. This is when you have to make the sacrifices.
“There are days when you struggle and you want to do something and your body is not agreeing with you and you don’t have that snap. It’s easy to get a little down. That’s the trick.
“Some days when you think back - ‘I used to be able to do this and go out at night’ - you have to pay attention to what you’re doing at all times. You get run down. That’s definitely the worst part of being older. It’s never the same every day, and lot of times it doesn’t feel good.’’
Consider that Moyer missed the entire 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery and has now come back.
There is no pretense that Moyer is a power pitcher. He hit 80 miles per hour in his first start, and that has been his best velocity. His fastball is averaging 78 m.p.h - that’s about 25 m.p.h. slower than Justin Verlander.
But Moyer (1-2) became the oldest pitcher to win a major league game.
And Jeter? Playing shortstop every day at 38 and hitting .400?
“I couldn’t even imagine that,’’ said Konerko. “He’s a greater athlete, to begin with. I’m playing first base but I’m out there for four at-bats. As a shortstop, you’re expected to do more physical things. Derek is in a world of his own.’’
“Jeter is one of the greatest to ever play the game,’’ said Ortiz. “That’s the reason he can do what he can do at that age.
“He’s special. You have to be special to do what he does and to play that way every day like he does. He keeps himself in great shape.’’
And yes, there is the old chip-on-the-shoulder aspect to this.
People told Ortiz two years ago that he was done. People have questioned whether Jeter can handle shortstop as he ages.
“We all get old,’’ said Jeter. “It happens to all of us, but I’m not going to give in to it. I’m going to be the best I can be. I love playing baseball.’’
Sure, when it goes, it often goes all at once, which is why Ortiz and Konerko are realistic about how much longer they will play. Konerko’s deal is up at the end of next season. Ortiz has been going year to year. Jeter is the middle of an extension that could take him through 2014.
“You do it because it’s a privilege to be a major league player,’’ said Konerko. “I have a lot of friends who are sitting at home now who once played and they wish they could be back.
“I never take it for granted. Every day is fun for me no matter how I feel. And I think, all of us, when we get older, want to leave the game on top.’’
Ex-teammates wish him well
Jenks (above), who underwent two back surgeries and survived a pulmonary embolism last season, has had his problems - physical and emotional - including a DUI charge in March.
Jenks is trying to get his life in order after signing a two-year, $12 million deal with the Red Sox last year when the White Sox elected not to re-sign him. He had been with Chicago for six seasons and won a World Series there in 2005.
“I’m a big fan of Bobby’s,’’ said Konerko. “I think when you win a World Series with someone, there is a bond that will never go away.
“He’s definitely one of the toughest, meanest competitors I played with. There was never a time when he had the ball in his hand that I didn’t feel good about it. A dominant, tough kid.
“I’m always pulling for him. I hope he gets back on the field and pitches. Nobody wants their career to end with something injury-related. He’s still a young guy.’’
His former pitching coach, Don Cooper said, “Bobby will always be remembered here. He put a ring on my finger. He was our closer for handful of years and I’ve enjoyed all my time with Bobby.’’
Asked if he remembered any incidents involving Jenks, Cooper said, “We want to make sure all of our guys are doing the right thing off the field. We’ll help them in any way we can. I don’t care who it is, you have to make the right decisions. Bobby had no problems on or off the field with us.’’
Asked whether he’d contacted Jenks since he left, Cooper said, “I’ve called him and texted, but he never got back to me.’’
Apropos of nothing
2. The reason this correspondent pushed for Todd Helton to come to Boston a few years back is in the numbers: He has hit .331 against righthanded pitchers, .323 against righthanded starters, .301 against lefthanded pitchers, .322 against lefthanded starters. His current .298 average for the month of April would be the only sub-.300 monthly average of his career. He has hit .330 with runners in scoring position, .406 with a runner on third and less than two out, .281 with a runner on third and two outs. He has a .303 average with two outs and runners in scoring position, .307 when the scored is tied, and .296 in late-and-close situations (seventh inning or later, a three-run differential or less). Great hitter.
3. Here’s a site for those who want to express support for Dwight Evans’s Hall of Fame candidacy: calltothehall.com.
4. The Nationals starting pitchers have been incredible. They had a 26-inning scoreless streak snapped when Jordan Zimmermann served up a solo homer to Orlando Hudson Wednesday night. Entering Saturday, they had been scored on in only six of their last 62 innings. In the first 19 games of the season, the starters allowed zero earned runs eight times - the first team in modern history to do that. They allowed zero or one earned run 15 times. Through 16 games, the Nationals’ entire pitching staff allowed only three home runs. The last pitching staff to accomplish that: The 1997 Atlanta Braves. And four members of the Washington rotation entered weekend play with ERAs under 2.00: Ross Detwiler (0.56), Stephen Strasburg (1.08), Zimmermann (1.33), and Gio Gonzalez (1.52). Don’t think John Lannan is getting out of Triple A anytime soon.
5. Pretty funny that when Rays first baseman Carlos Pena went near the first base stands to field a foul ball, the overzealous fan who interfered with him was former NBA player Matt Geiger.
6. Joe Maddon’s theme for the Rays’ trip to Texas this weekend was minimalism. “I’m hoping everybody just brings their little carry-on luggage,’’ Maddon said. “One pair of jeans, three shirts, some socks, and those who wear underwear bring underwear. And your toiletries. As we move forward into this century, I think minimalism is going to become a more popular concept.’’
7. Mike Aviles has made everyone forget about Jose Iglesias . . . for now.
8. Sox players think it’s great that Jacoby Ellsbury is with the team at all times now as he rehabs from his latest injury.
9. Rocco Baldelli had the same elbow injury (UCL) as Carl Crawford, but his required Tommy John surgery. Baldelli, now a special assistant to Andrew Friedman with the Rays, said he hurt his elbow on one specific throw. “It was obvious after I tried to play with it that we needed to do something,’’ said Baldelli. “So we had the surgery. Everyone is different. My ligament was either very torn or almost all torn, so I have no idea the extent of Carl’s injury. I just hope he gets better. I wish him the best.’’
10. Most baseball people feel there’s no way the Red Sox let Aaron Cook escape by not calling him up May 1. “You have to keep your inventory,’’ said a longtime official. “Especially your good inventory. They’ll have to sort it out, but I doubt they would let him go.’’
11. Here’s a good take: The Hall of Fame celebrates Fenway’s 100 years with Fenway Day on Saturday, May 5, in Cooperstown. The museum has a new exhibit called “FENtennial,’’ which features almost four dozen artifacts.
Updates on nine
1. Brandon Inge, 3B, Tigers - You figure someone will pick up this classy veteran (above), who can play the infield and even catch if he has to. The A’s are a good bet. Inge, 34, who was released by the Tigers last week, lived in Boston temporarily while his wife went to school here. “There are no hard feelings whatsoever,’’ he said. “This is my family. This is where I’ve been my whole career. I’ll miss the guys - I will.’’ Inge was replaced by journeyman Brad Eldred, who had hit 13 homers in 20 games at Toledo.
2. Brett Jackson, OF, Cubs - When Marlon Byrd was dealt to Boston, many expected Chicago to bring up this prospect, but it’s too soon, according to Cubs sources. Jackson has fewer than 300 Triple A at-bats. Theo Epstein’s feeling is that a guy should get at least 500.
3. Carl Pavano, RHP, Twins - If the Twins don’t turn things around by the trade deadline, he could be one sought-after pitcher. Pavano has a 1.15 WHIP in five starts in the last season of his contract. Jason Marquis might be right behind him, though probably not as sought-after. If the season spirals downward, general manager Terry Ryan has to consider using Pavano, Marquis, Matt Capps, and Francisco Liriano as chips to bring in prospects.
4. Brett Myers, RHP, Astros - With four saves, he should have teams thinking seriously about trading for him. Myers pitched more than 200 innings each of the last two years, but after the Astros traded Mark Melancon to the Red Sox, they took Myers out of the rotation and put him at the back end of the bullpen. Many teams, including the Angels and Red Sox, could use Myers’s arm right now. Astros manager Brad Mills has been impressed with his velocity and the two speeds he has shown on his curveball, which has been very effective. Myers has pitched in a big market (Philadelphia) and is good under pressure.
5. Grant Balfour, RHP, A’s - He is becoming one of the more sought-after possible back-end pieces. The Angels have inquired. The Angels have also shown interest in Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan and Seattle’s Brandon League, but Balfour seems the most logical.
6. Chris Carpenter, RHP, Cardinals - He has a nerve issue that has caused weakness in his right shoulder and is on a strengthening program, but he seems to be getting antsy. “Doing OK,’’ Carpenter wrote in a text. “They’re taking me slow.’’ The Cardinals will continue to be cautious. There is no rush, with Lance Lynn at 4-0, 1.33 - and he’s only third on the club in ERA. Adam Wainwright recently said, “What we’ve had going is five guys who have shown they’re capable of not just filling a void but being great starters. It’s not like we’re hanging on until Carp gets back. We can win with the five guys we have now.’’
7. Delmon Young, OF, Tigers - If he is convicted of a hate crime following his alleged anti-Semitic rant during an altercation in New York, it will be interesting to see whether the Tigers void his contract. They would be within their rights under the collective bargaining agreement, which has language to protect teams if players engage in such activity. Young, 26, earns $6.75 million and can become a free agent after the season. The incident involved a panhandler wearing a Star of David pendant and a group of tourists Young got into an altercation with.
8. Chone Figgins, 3B, Mariners - Many thought Figgins would get a jump start this season when manager Eric Wedge showed faith in him by making him the leadoff hitter and dropping Ichiro Suzuki into the third hole. Well, it hasn’t worked out, as Figgins was barely over .200 heading into the weekend and had struck out a whopping 21 times in 72 at-bats. Wedge will stick with Figgins for a while, but the leash is getting shorter by the day.
9. Bryan LaHair, 1B, Cubs - Very interesting scenario developing for the Worcester native. He is one of the hottest hitters in the National League (.362, 4 HRs, a 1.168 OPS), but first baseman of the future Anthony Rizzo is hitting .380 with 7 HRs and 21 RBIs (1.107 OPS) for Triple A Iowa. LaHair is 29 and could be moved to the outfield, or he could provide Epstein and Jed Hoyer with interesting trade bait.
From the Bill Chuck files: “The Red Sox now have three of the top eight most frequently hit batters since 2008: Kevin Youkilis (54 HBP), Kelly Shoppach (47 HBP), and Marlon Byrd (45 HBP). Chase Utley leads with 83.’’ Also, “The Blue Jays record for most double plays in a season is 205 in 1980; they pulled off 30 in their first 18 games, which puts them on a pace for 270.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Shoppach (32), Tony Armas Jr. (34), Rafael Betancourt (37), Wes Gardner (51), Steve Crawford (54), Bob McClure (60), Rick Burleson (61), Tom House (65), and Luis Aparicio (78).