LAS VEGAS -- Paul Konerko carved out quite a name for himself as a player in Major League Baseball. But hockey was always in the background, a siren song calling him to return to the first sport he loved.
He is heeding that call this week by playing at the Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp for the second straight year. His wife sent him to the camp last year as a retirement present; he returned this year because of the fun he had the first time around.
"Here, I'm like a little kid," Konerko, 40, said Wednesday after his day of games was done. "It's awesome."
As a kid, first in Rhode Island and then Connecticut and, finally, Scottsdale, Ariz., Konerko played hockey and baseball, but hockey was his first love. He said there are pictures of him on skates in his backyard in Cranston, R.I., as a 3-year-old, well before he played baseball for the first time. He learned the game from his father, who was a player of some repute with the powerhouse Cranston East teams of the 1960s.
"Up until the time I moved out to Arizona at 11 or 12 years old, I was probably better as a hockey player than baseball because I played more hockey," he said. "Then I got to Scottsdale and I took off in baseball because I played so much."
His baseball prowess led him to the major leagues eventually. Konerko was a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994; he played briefly for the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds before he was moved to the Chicago White Sox and began to flourish, primarily as a first baseman.
He was a member of the team that won the World Series in 2005, the franchise's first since 1917. He captained the White Sox from 2006 until his retirement in 2014. A six-time All-Star, Konerko finished with a .279 career batting average and 439 home runs.
Since his retirement, he has gone from power hitter to power forward, freed to play the game he left behind upon turning professional as a baseball player because of the fear of being injured.
"I just waited and waited and waited and, finally, I was like 'All right, now I can get hurt in peace,'" he said with a laugh.
Video: Wayne Gretzky talks about his fantasy camp
He showed a few nice power forward moves and some surprisingly agile hands on Wednesday. In one of the games, he scored two goals, including the game-winner for his team. In another, he scored a sweet empty-net goal, deking retired NHL forward George Parros in the process.
"Unfortunately for our team, I think they consider me one of the pros here, so I'm trying to chip in and do something," he said. "I'm not quite sure I have lost a step; I think I have lost a zone."
He is doing his best to make up for lost time in hockey. He said he plays once or twice a week in pickup games at home in Scottsdale, and he watches the game whenever he can.
"It's probably my first love. Now that I am done playing, I watch a hundred times more hockey than I do baseball," he said.