Mark Buehrle describes the 'amazing feeling' of having jersey number retired by White Sox

Mark Buehrle describes the 'amazing feeling' of having jersey number retired by White Sox

Mark Buehrle might need time to process everything that took place Saturday afternoon when he was surrounded by friends, family, teammates and fans, showered with gifts and overwhelmed by emotion.

The White Sox officially retired the number of one of the most popular players in team history in front of 38,618 at Guaranteed Rate Field. A banner covering Buehrle’s No. 56 was unfurled during an afternoon ceremony that makes the left-hander one of 11 players in club history whose number has been retired. Surrounded by fellow honoree Frank Thomas among many others, the always humble Buehrle -- who won 161 games in 12 seasons with the White Sox -- said afterward he’s not sure he belongs in the club.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Buehrle said. “It’s going to take time. I don’t know if it’s ever going to sink in and realize there it is.

“Amazing feeling. Can’t really put it into words how you feel. I wasn’t actually as nervous as I thought I would be once I was up there. But obviously glad it’s over with and it’s a special day.”

Buehrle’s list of dignitaries included Thomas, managers Ozzie Guillen and Jerry Manuel, Cliff Polite, Scott Podsednik, Jim Thome, Joe Crede, Jon Garland, John Danks and hitting coach Greg Walker.

White Sox play by play man Hawk Harrelson emceed a ceremony that lasted 30 minutes. Included were speeches by Thomas and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper as well as an unveiling of a series of gifts. The team presented Buehrle with a new truck, a baseball collage put together by Ron Kittle, a four-seat All-Terrain Vehicle -- much to the enjoyment of his duck hunting club seated on the 400 level -- as well as the flip-through-the-legs ball from Opening Day 2010. Club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf also spoke during the ceremony, dropping in a series of one-liners.

“I’ve never seen him upset,” Guillen said. “I’ve never seen him overreact. Day in and day out he was the same guy. That’s what makes him so special. His teammates loved him.

“Buehrle did something: outsmart people. People don’t have stuff like him they think I’m smart, I can do this and fake it. Buehrle just grabbed the ball and threw it.

“To survive for so many years and have your number retired, there’s not that many people up there.

“It’s amazing with the stuff he had. I’ve seen a lot of better pitchers with better stuff. You don’t see too many guys with the same heart.”

Buehrle said Friday that he anticipated he’d be an emotional wreck for the event. The man beloved by the public isn’t much for public speaking. Throw in all of his friends and family present and Buehrle just hoped to get through his own speech. He said the sight of seeing his number unfurled almost put him over the edge.

“Emotions and trying to breathe deep and don’t start crying, tearing up,” Buehrle said. “I was trying to hold my emotions together. But just looking up there and seeing that. I can’t put it into words.”

When it was his turn to say the words, Buehrle spoke the way he pitched: tidy and efficient. Wearing a suit and sunglasses in case he teared up, Buehrle spoke with his wife and children at his side. Aside from his family, Buehrle said he avoided naming names during the 4-minute, 19-second speech because he had too many people to thank for the journey from 38th-round draft pick to all-time great.

Buehrle said he wouldn’t be able to pick out his favorite part until he watches the ceremony again later. After the ceremony, Buehrle's son sang the National Anthem and his daughter threw out the first pitch.

“When I watch it back in a couple hours and realize what happened and what really went on,” Buehrle said. “It’s kind of hard to hear out there, but it’s just everything. I had Frank Thomas and Jim Thome behind me. They’re here for my day. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Don Cooper remembers what made Mark Buehrle so special 

Don Cooper remembers what made Mark Buehrle so special 

Mark Buehrle didn’t have the kind of attributes found in most of the dominant pitchers of the post-steroid era. He was a 38th-round draft pick with a fastball that, on a good day, would scrap the upper 80’s. 

On Saturday, Buehrle will become the third pitcher to have his number retired in White Sox history, joining Ted Lyons (No. 16) and Billy Pierce (No. 19). For Don Cooper, who was Buehrle’s pitching coach from 2002-2011, it’s not hard to see why the St. Charles, Mo. native’s name will forever be a part of White Sox history. 

“Reliable, consistent, dependable, winner, good guy, unflappable, these are words that come to mind when I think about him,” Cooper said. 

Cooper was flooded with plenty of memories of Buehrle during the dozen minutes he spent chatting with the media on Friday. He said he learned a lot from working with Buehrle, watching him fill up the strike zone and induce early, weak contact while working at a brisk pace. One of Cooper's memories that stood out was this one:

“I can remember in the bullpen, he’d be warming up, he’d throw about 10 pitches,” Cooper said. “He’d look at me, I’d look at him. He wasn’t throwing very good. He turned to me and said, ‘Come on, let’s go, this isn’t going to get me any better.’”

But that was Buehrle — “In many ways, you could just wind him up and you’re throwing him out there every five days,” Cooper said. He battled through days where he didn’t have his best stuff — not that his stuff was electric to begin with — and turned in 14 consecutive years with 200 or more innings. 

Buehrle, of course, threw a no-hitter in 2007 and a perfect game in 2009, and along with save in Game 3 of the World Series represent some of the crowning achievements of his career. Cooper was happy to have been a part of it from his perch on the White Sox bench. 

“I think he was blessed,” Cooper said. “He was given a lot of gifts. The sinking fastball, the changeup, the cutter. His curveball, by scouts’ assessments, would probably be rated an average curveball. But as time went and as his stuff went down, we started to use that more. When he was at his best, we would throw about 8-10 of those. But as he started losing his stuff we had to mix more of those in. And listen, the career he had, his number being retired, the kids, his family — blessed. He’s been a blessed guy.” 

How an unorthodox routine has increased Todd Frazier's confidence at the plate

How an unorthodox routine has increased Todd Frazier's confidence at the plate

CLEVELAND -- Todd Frazier feels as good at the plate as he has all season and is taking extra steps to maintain that state. 

The White Sox third baseman has spent the better part of the team’s current road trip tracking his teammates’ pitches in pregame bullpen sessions instead of taking extra batting practice. 

Given how slowly he started the season, Frazier wanted to ensure he’s doing everything he can to get back on track. And while setting foot in the bullpen means he hears extra smack talk from teammates and argues balls and strikes with Don Cooper, Frazier thinks the practice -- one he’s done before seven straight games -- has helped considerably. His numbers indicate how feels as Frazier is hitting .348/.400/.826 in his last 25 plate appearances. A three-hit game on Thursday night pushed Frazier’s average to a season-high .206.

“The main part of it is you feel your front foot getting down and seeing where you are on a fastball, seeing where you are on a slider,” Frazier said. “I’ve been in great positions and it’s a challenge for me and for them too. I think it can only help. It’s something I used to do a lot but kind of got away from it -- the days are longer and you’re playing a lot more games. But kind of got in a little groove with doing that and then getting ready.”

The groove is overdue for a player who in his career has considerably better numbers in the first half of the season versus the second. Frazier experienced myriad health issues early in the season that seemed to continually prevent him from building momentum. But even after he got healthier, the free agent to be couldn’t get back on track.

Frazier has seen the ball pretty well as evidenced by his team-high 27 walks. Still, he wasn’t hitting his pitches when they came. 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Frazier said. “At the end of the day not only in baseball, but in life in general, to go through these kinds of things, which I’ve done a couple times -- not everybody is Mike Trout -- it’s a learning experience.”

It’s an experience that had Frazier return to an old tried-and-true method he hadn’t used in season since the 2015 season in Cincinnati. Hitters normally spend the first few days each spring tracking pitches in live batting practice. But to see a hitter stand in the bullpen to track pitches in season for more than a day is a rare occurrence.

Pitcher Derek Holland faced Frazier earlier in the week. Holland said the level of trash talk between Frazier and whatever starting pitcher he faces is at an absurd level. But Holland thinks everyone benefits from the intensity of the game-like practice sessions.

“It’s definitely at an all-time high right now,” Holland said. “What makes it even better is when you’re going through tough times. The last two starts haven’t exactly been what I wanted.

With this, having (Frazier) stand in there, one we’re talking crap to each other and two we’re feeding off each other. It’s helping me visual better when I’m facing a right-handed hitter. It’s helping him see the ball.

“It definitely gets intense.”

The impact seemingly has been instant for Frazier, whose June OPS (yes, it’s a small sample) is 475 points higher than his season OPS (.741). Both Frazier and manager Rick Renteria like how the veteran looks at the plate and expect the run to continue. It was at its peak on Thursday when Frazier started a potential rally with a leadoff single in the fifth inning. Three innings later, Frazier smacked a two-run homer -- his 10th -- off the left-field foul pole to get the White Sox within a run.

“Todd is starting to feel it a little bit,” Renteria said. “It’s been coming along over the last week or so. He’s been working very hard, his routines. He’s been doing a few things to get him to feel more and more comfortable at the plate, and we’re happy to see it’s starting to pay some dividends.”

Frazier hopes that his teammates’ trash talk will be quieted down with each good performance. He doesn’t, however, expect he’s going to get any fairer of a shake from Cooper calling balls and strikes in the bullpen sessions. 

“When I’m right it’s going to be for a while,” Frazier said. “I’ve been working on a lot of things and I feel really good at the plate.

“The pitchers were talking a little smack so I said ‘All right, I’ll come in there and track and call strikes, too.’ At the end of the day these pitchers think everything is a strike and Don Cooper is the same way, so me and him aren’t talking. You know, we’re not going to be talking for a while.”