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Konerko to Bide His Time

It was a tremendous one-two punch that could have left Paul Konerko reeling in self-pity and crying, “No mas.”

Konerko, the No. 1 prospect in the organization and one of the top power hitters in all of the minors, was tentatively scheduled to be the starting third baseman or first baseman sometime in 1998.

Yet, in a span of 30 days this winter, the Dodgers signed free-agent third baseman Todd Zeile to a three-year contract. Then, if that wasn’t enough, they signed first baseman Eric Karros to a four-year extension.

What’s a guy to do?

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Konerko, who hit 29 home runs at double-A San Antonio, insists that it’s premature to worry about such things now. He still has to prove that he’s worthy of all the accolades, he says. But if Konerko performs the way everyone believes, he might leave the Dodgers with an interesting situation. After all, neither Zeile nor Karros have no-trade restrictions.

“You don’t like to put ‘don’t-miss’ tags on people,” said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president, “but this guy is going to play in the major leagues. When he’s ready to play in the major leagues, he’ll play.

“You just have to look at our track record to understand that.”

Konerko, who signed as a catcher and moved to first base last spring, will probably play third base this season in Albuquerque. He was moved to third base in the instructional league and showed enough ability to return.

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“I just want to go out and do my job and let the rest take care of itself,” Konerko said. “Hey, if I was the Dodgers, I would have done the same thing. The Dodgers are trying to win. They’re just not going to wait for me. I’ve got to go out and do my job.

“I had a year that got me to triple-A, but I haven’t done anything in triple-A. I still have to prove I can play. If I do that, and show them that I can play, then maybe we’ll worry about the next step.

“I hope to God to play for the Dodgers, but if not, hey, it would still be great to be in the big leagues.”

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Chip Hale never has caught a game in his life. Yet, here he is early in camp, putting shin guards on every day and catching the pitchers in the bullpen.

“I told these guys I’d give it a try,” said Hale, who led the American League last year with 19 pinch-hits. “It’s always nice to have an emergency third catcher. I hope I never have to go back there, but I’m available.”

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Tom Lasorda, Dodger vice president, is scheduled to leave next week for a scouting trip in Japan. He will return March 5, when the Veterans Committee is expected to vote him into the Hall of Fame. “It would be a thrill of a lifetime if that happens,” Lasorda said. . . . The Dodgers will have all of their pitchers in camp by Tuesday when closer Todd Worrell arrives. Reliever Scott Radinsky is scheduled to work out today, and starter Ismael Valdes is expected to arrive tonight. . . . The early good mood in the clubhouse can partly be attributed to the $148,000 licensing checks that all players who were in the big leagues since 1991 received. . . . Former commissioner Bowie Kuhn is visiting Dodger President Peter O’Malley at Dodgertown.

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