As he returned to U.S. Cellular Field on Monday afternoon for the first time since he left as a free agent, Mark Buehrle is quite comfortable in his old surroundings.
Buehrle, who left sign with the Miami Marlins last season and has since been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, holds out hope White Sox fans will treat him well over the next three days.
He is disappointed he won’t pitch in this series against his former team of 12 seasons for a second time this season.
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But Buerhle looks forward to spending a few days at home and around his friends. He also knows the White Sox have plans to honor him Monday night with a video tribute and hopes he’ll be able to manage his emotions.
“I’ve seen it on the other end, guys come back to Toronto and they come up to bat and they get booed big time,” Buehrle said. “It’d be nice to come out here and get cheered and with the video thing it’d be kind of nice to see if I don’t get too choked up. But I think the whole experience of being back will be nice.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura understands why Buehrle would prefer to pitch because of his competitive nature. Ventura also joked that Buehrle would probably get booed by Sox fans even though he’s deserving of applause.
"I don't see any reason why people wouldn't cheer him,” Ventura said. “You'd expect him to get a big applause. Just walking around, I think people would do that because of the years he spent here and what he's meant to the organization. He's just a good guy, and the stuff he's done on the field.”
Asked what his favorite memories are of his time with the White Sox, Buerhle couldn’t narrow down the field.
It’s easy to understand why given his resume: his 161 victories are the sixth most in franchise history; he has a perfect game and a no-hitter to his credit and he helped the team win the 2005 World Series title.
But Buehrle noted the memories go much deeper than the on-field accomplishments.
“It’s everything,” Buehrle said. “Driving in today felt normal. When you do something for 12 years of your life, you know for six months, besides being on the road for six months, it just felt normal to come here. Nothing sticks out. … It’s the people I met, not just the people I’ve played with -- security guards, bag handlers at the field, my neighbors -- it's just everyone who has touched my career and my life for being here that long. I think it’s everything combined. It’s just great memories.”
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Chris Sale probably has a guess or two as to why Buehrle has such a strong following among White Sox fans. He said Buehrle was personable and genuine as any teammate he has ever had from the start.
“He joked around actually the day that I came in, my signing day,” Sale said. “He said, ‘This is going to be the guy who takes my job one day.’ He was great from Day 1.”
With two years left on his current deal, Buehrle hasn’t begun to think about his post-playing career days just yet. But he admits he’d be open to a role with the team if it were the right fit.
“If I came back to baseball it would be to the White Sox,” Buehrle said. “But with the kids right now and playing for so long it’s hard to imagine doing anything right away. But again, if it’s something where I can be at home a lot and just kind of talk to people or do some little stuff than I might.”