When catcher Tyler Flowers learned that he had been acquired by the Chicago White Sox in December of 2008, a certain thought entered his mind.
"I'd hate to be the guy to replace A.J. Pierzynski," Flowers says in an interview with Comcast SportsNet.
Now four years later, Flowers is that lucky guy.
How does it feel?
"Good luck," he says with a laugh.
Pierzynski is a White Sox icon. He won a World Series. He went to the All-Star Game. If it weren't for his new manager, Ron Washington, he would have gone to more.
Pierzynski gave baseball the famous dropped third strike. Michael Barrett gave A.J. that notorious punch to the face.
Even if something on his body was broken, battered, or bruised, Pierzynski put on his catcher's gear and played ball. He caught more than 120 games in all 8 seasons with the White Sox. His new team, the Texas Rangers, haven't had a catcher make more than 120 starts in a season since Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez in 1999.
You don't need to be a geologist to find Pierzynski's footprints in the soil of U.S. Cellular Field. Now Flowers has the unenviable task of following those steps.
"I knew who A.J. was before I got traded, but obviously getting into the organization, getting called up to the big leagues, and hearing how the crowd responds to a guy like him, along with Buehrle and Konerko. Those were the guys," Flowers says. "It's going to be interesting."
On Saturday, the groundhog will emerge from the ground and look for its shadow. Flowers knows he will be hounded by Pierzynski's all season long.
"It's going to be a challenge," Flowers says. "He was a great player. He was a great teammate. He was a good guy to be around. I learned a lot from him. He spent a lot of time with me, with everybody. Even in spring training he was working with some of the young guys. We were all communicating together. He did everything right by me."
But in the competitive world of Major League Baseball, Flowers wanted something that he couldn't get: Pierzynski's job.
"Of course I like the guy and I liked being his teammate, but at the same time I want an opportunity, too, which I feel I put myself in a position to earn this opportunity that I'm getting," Flowers says. "So it was kind of wishing him out, but wishing him the best, too. There's definitely nothing negative between us. It's a great relationship. It was a tough situation."
Flowers says that he and A.J. haven't spoken since Pierzynski signed his 1-year, $7.5 million contract with the Rangers.
"I don't want to overwhelm him with anything," Flowers says. "I don't know how he feels about the whole situation. I can only go by what I read, and as you know, what you read isn't always 100 percent the truth. But I haven't really tried to reach out to him or anything. But I'll see him in spring training. I'm sure we'll have a couple conversations."
Flowers knows that White Sox fans have had many conversations about him. Basically, that he's not Pierzynski. Flowers has never had more than 136 at-bats in a season. How can he replace Pierzynski's 27 home runs and 77 RBIs from last season?
"It's more than numbers, though," Flowers explains. "A.J. was a great player, but I think there are other things that I bring to the table that he didn't have in his repertoire. But at the same time his offensive ability is pretty superior, especially for the position we play. So I'm not going to sit here and say that I'm going to hit better than A.J. or anything like that. I'm going to tell you that I'm going to work just as hard as he did, and he was a guy who worked his tail off every day. I've actually taken a lot of that from him the last few years and I plan on continuing that for the rest of my career."
White Sox pitchers talk glowingly about the way that Flowers catches a game.
"That's better than hitting .300 with 50 [home runs] for me," Flowers says. "I really have my heart in the position. I transferred to catching [from first base] late in my life. Not that long ago. Five years ago."
Now, he's addicted to it.
"My wife hates me. I watch baseball everyday. Last year I would play and then watch the Sunday night game. I'm watching the catchers and I'm watching everything. I'm just trying to pick up every little thing I can. Looking at [Yadier] Molina, [Joe] Mauer and Buster Posey. Just watching little things they do. You can learn so many things. How can I make this pitch look better and get that strike call for my guy? How can I make it easier for the umpire to see this pitch? How can I get that low pitch to be a strike all day which will help the team, help him go longer, help us win games?"
In 2013, he finally has a chance to do it full-time.
"This is something I've been waiting for for a while. It's a good opportunity. It's time to see what all that hard work was for over the last 20 years. I'm definitely excited. I feel blessed to get an opportunity and I look forward to taking advantage of it."
Watch Chuck Garfien’s interview with Tyler Flowers Thursday on SportsNet Central at 6:30pm, 10:00pm and 12:00am.