Sitting in the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap and warmup jacket, A.J. Pierzynski needed all of one millisecond to answer which big league team he most identifies with, a reasonable query considering he’s now on his sixth MLB team.
“Obviously the White Sox,” he said with no hesitation whatsoever. “We won a World Series. It’s hard to top that. All the time I spent here and the people here, and the fans always in Chicago have been great. So obviously the White Sox are kind of where it’s at.”
The White Sox are where it’s at, and Chicago is where he is again, at least for the next two days. But it was the White Sox that Pierzynski was celebrating when he made the decision to join the Cardinals after being let go by the Red Sox earlier this month.
Pierzynski was in Cooperstown this week, a guest of Frank Thomas, the White Sox legend who will be enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame this weekend. Pierzynski was one of three members of the 2005 World Series champs in attendance as guests of Thomas, Aaron Rowand and Jermaine Dye being the others. And though Pierzynski left Boston on not-the-best terms and he had to cut off his trip to Cooperstown before the actual ceremony on Sunday, he was ecstatic to spend time with a former teammate heading to baseball’s ultimate ring of honor.
“It’s as happy as I’ve seen Frank in a really long time. It was nice to see him with a smile on his face, he’s enjoying it,” Pierzynski said. “He had a big party on Thursday night. It was kind of a surprise, he didn’t know who was going to show up. So he was excited to see myself and Rowand and Jermaine Dye, some other guys that were there. It was pretty cool, he was really happy. It was fun to see Frank like that. Usually when you see Frank he’s a little tense and uptight sometimes, but that’s kind of the Frank that I know compared to everyone else. So it was great to see him happy.
“How can you not be happy? You’re going into the Hall of Fame.”
The tail end of Thomas’ career with the White Sox was just one of several highlights of Pierzynski’s stay on the South Side, and it’s not difficult to see that the White Sox are still close to his heart. He said he still keeps in touch with plenty of people from the organization and actually passed some of them in the airport on the way to meet his new team in Chicago. His former teammates were as glad as he was to continue this season after the rough go in Boston.
“I talked to (Paul Konerko) yesterday. A bunch of the White Sox guys texted me. Frank was happy,” he said. “I’m wearing 35, so Frank was like, ‘Yeah, thanks.’ So he was all excited about that. All those guys, obviously the guys who were in Cooperstown. Jermaine was there when I was packing up. … You keep in touch with all those guys, and they were all happy.”
His welcome back to Chicago might not be the warmest one. He’ll be on the North Side — where he hit that game-winning homer of Ryan Dempster in 2006 — and he’ll be facing the Cubs — the team he famously slapped home plate and took a punch against that same season. Plus, wearing the jersey of the home team’s biggest rival won’t help.
How does Pierzynski feel being in a new heated rivalry with the Cubs?
“If it can top the Cubs-White Sox when I was here, it’d be pretty good,” he said to laughs of reporters who remembered his exploits against the North Siders. “It’s going to be pretty tough to top those few years when I was here. … I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully Wrigley’s loud, and I’m sure I’ll get a nice ovation from the crowd.”
“Nice” is an interesting choice of words. They must’ve been saying something other than “boo” when his name was announced as part of the Cardinals’ starting lineup Saturday.
But it seems that unless he makes some more postseason history either in St. Louis or at any other stop before his career is over, Pierzynski will always be a member of the White Sox in his own mind. And in the minds of thousands of fans, too.