A.J. Pierzynski returns to U.S. Cellular Field on Friday for the first time since he left the team to sign with the Texas Rangers.
The former White Sox catcher spent eight seasons with club before he signed a one-year, $7.5-million deal with the Rangers in December. Though Pierzynski expressed interest in staying with the White Sox, whom he helped to a World Series title in 2005, the two sides never came close to a deal. Pierzynski’s former teammate Paul Konerko expects the veteran catcher will receive a warm welcome from fans when the two teams open a three-game series on Friday.
“He deserves it,” Konerko said. “He spent a lot of time on the South Side, did a lot of great things, won a World Series and always represented the organization well. I would expect nothing, but good things. I’m sure he’s looking forward to the weekend on one hand and at the same time I’m sure he’s looking forward to getting in, getting it over and moving on. I would hope they’re positive.”
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Pierzynski isn’t alone in his return trip.
Alex Rios comes back to The Cell exactly two weeks after he was acquired by Texas in exchange for rookie infielder Leury Garcia, who was promoted by the White Sox on Thursday. Former reliever Neal Cotts also is with the Rangers as are former Cubs Geovany Soto and Matt Garza.
But none of those players has captured the attention of White Sox fans like Pierzynski did. He was a fan favorite after he joined the team in 2005 and has caught the third most games in team history.
Pierzynski’s departure last offseason wasn’t received well by a vocal portion of the team’s fan base as the White Sox elected to give Tyler Flowers a chance to take over as the club’s full-time catcher.
On Thursday, Pierzynski told Rangers reporters he is excited to return but also is aware the experience will be strange.
"I will be glad to get it over with, especially Friday," Pierzynski said. "But I'm looking forward to it and seeing some people. I still have a lot of friends over there, guys who I will be friends with for life. It will be weird going into the visitor's clubhouse, but I'm looking forward to going to the city. I love the city, I love the organization and I love the fans. Hopefully we'll go in there and play well."
White Sox manager Robin Ventura agrees Pierzynski’s return carries a few strange aspects. He recalls how weird it felt for him to return to Chicago in 2002 with the New York Yankees after he spent the first nine seasons of his major league career with the White Sox.
“You come to the stadium and you’ve done these things for years that feel natural and all of a sudden you keep walking around to the other side,” Ventura said. “You see the faces that are familiar, but being over on the other side is different. It feels odd.”
Konerko believes the sight of Rios might look a little more strange than seeing Pierzynski, whom the team played against in early May in Arlington, Texas. It’s one thing when a player leaves in the offseason Konerko said. But the prospect of running into Rios and perhaps Jake Peavy when the White Sox are in Boston next week are a little different.
“You’re just going to bump into guys you played with just kind of by the sheer numbers,” Konerko said. “But it’s definitely awkward to see Alex in a Ranger uniform on TV. We were just playing with him two weeks ago. It’s just the nature of the beast and everybody tries to be professional about it. You know you’re going to say hello and have some laughs, but they’re going to go out and try to do what it is for their team to win a game and so are we and that’s the way it is.”