CHICAGO | Something about A.J. Pierzynski looked different Friday afternoon.
And it wasn’t just his gray Texas Rangers road uniform before the first game back at The Cell in his post-White Sox days.
Baseball’s longtime agent-provocateur somehow looked younger than last year with the Sox. Maybe he just looks spry at TGIF time.
Or maybe Pierzynski has finally dialed down his personality that made him look older and too intense. More importantly, the normal off-putting style could drive everyone from teammates to opponents nuts, cursing him out, but always acknowledging this increasingly eternal catcher would kill to win a game.
“That’s good, that’s nice,” he said of being called a winner. “If I rub the people the wrong way, I can’t worry about that. The last couple of years, I’ve actually kind of calmed it down a little bit. Maybe I don’t have the energy anymore.
“Maybe it was my wrestling career.”
Throwing a chair in spring training in Tucson as part of a grappling demonstration was part of the Sox’s video-board tribute when he got into his crouch behind the plate to warm up Martin Perez before the bottom of the first. Pierzynski first waved to the crowd, then got up, doffed his helmet and blew a kiss to the “Elvis Night” gathering.
Pierzynski might be captain of the “Chicago Southwest” contingent on the Rangers. Amazingly, he and new arrival Alex Rios comprised one-half of the Sox’s three-through-six middle of the order in their first-place run in 2012. How do they end up on the same team less than a year later?
They got a lot of 30-degree April war stories to share with other Windy City emigres in the 100-degree Dallas-area heat that has eased up a bit this summer. Also wearing Rangers gray were ex-Cubs Matt Garza – Sunday’s scheduled starter – along with Geovany Soto and Jeff Baker. Lefty reliever Neal Cotts, a 2005 World Series Sox and 2008 playoff Cub, is back from the baseball dead, having not pitched in 2010 and 2011.
While Pierzynski bounced into a double play in his first time up in the second after another “standing O,” Baker slugged a 408-foot homer to right-center off Chris Sale with, ahem, Rios aboard via a single.
The local connection does not stop there. Two batters after Baker’s homer, Park Ridge’s Adam Rosales, an Oakland castoff, muscled up Sale for his own two-run blast to left.
But no matter how much firepower defrocked Chicagoans set off, Pierzynski will always be first among the equals. And much beloved as a 2005 Sox centerpiece who legally “stole” first base against the Angels on October the journey to the championship.
“The World Series is No. 1,” he said of his Sox highlights. “Nobody can ever take it away from that group of guys. It’s a very special group of guys who came together and go along and did some special things. Those guys are friends for life.
“Off the field, both my kids (Ava and Austin) were born here. They were a little confused. They wanted to know if they can go in the kids’ room. They’re looking forward to coming back and seeing the same people. They literally grew up here.”
The baseball tough guy that everyone loves to hate, but can’t do without if he’s your teammate, will always know the way home.