Buehrle makes first return to U.S. Cellular Field
Former White Sox ace receives standing ovation following video tribute
CHICAGO -- Mark Buehrle stepped up the stairs from the Blue Jays clubhouse, turned to his right and saw his least favorite situation as a Major League Baseball player.
There were 30 media members positioned in the dugout, waiting to talk to the left-hander about his return to Chicago. It was Buehrle's first interview session at U.S. Cellular Field as part of the opposition during his 14-year career.
"It feels different," Buehrle said, sitting among the recorders, microphones and cameras in his Blue Jays uniform. "Obviously getting off the plane, a couple of bag handlers said 'Welcome back, Mr. Buehrle.'
"Got in the car, driving home. Stayed out in the suburbs last night. Good to see my family, going out there. Just to be honest, it felt normal. Driving in today, I had some lunch where I usually eat lunch. The only thing that was different was walking in that door, and walk past it to come in here. It's a little different, being on this side. Here I am."
Buehrle is part of the Blue Jays after a major offseason trade between the Marlins and Toronto that involved 11 players. He had previously agreed to a four-year, $58-million deal with the Marlins on Dec. 9, 2011, ending his entertaining and highly successful 12-year run in Chicago.
Regardless of the change via free agency and then the deal sending him to Canada, Buehrle seemingly will always belong to the White Sox. He made his impact on the field by throwing a perfect game and a no-hitter, not to mention putting together 11 straight seasons of at least 200 innings pitched, 30 starts and double-digit victories.
It was Buehrle who started Game 2 of the 2005 World Series and then saved Game 3 in the 14th inning. He finished with a 161-119 career record as a member of the White Sox, ranking fourth in club history with 365 starts and 1,346 strikeouts, and setting a club record with nine Opening Day starts.
Then, there was Buehrle's contributions off the field.
He was always there to lend a helping hand to younger players such as John Danks and Chris Sale, even if they were considered the rotation future that ultimately would move Buehrle to another locale.
"Mark's a great guy," Sale said of one of his mentors. "He joked around actually the day that I came in, my signing day. He said, 'This is going to be the guy who takes my job one day.' He was great from Day 1."
"I just try to lead by example and do stuff on the field, and hopefully do it the right way and people see that," Buehrle said. "I was just good friends with those guys on and off the field. I think both those guys are better than me pitching-wise, but both have to talk me up. If they talk me down, I'll be going in the clubhouse."
By watching the mound work of Buehrle, who didn't have near the raw stuff as Sale, the young White Sox ace learned the value of filling up the zone with strikes and finding a good tempo to keep the defense involved. Sale also watched how Buehrle conducted himself as a teammate and with the media.
The best lesson to be learned simply came from studying the fun Buehrle had each and every day with the White Sox, whether he was joking in interviews about Dutch Elm Disease causing Spring Training shoulder soreness or tarp diving during rain delays before the White Sox strongly urged him to stop.
Some of those moments were captured on a video tribute put together by the White Sox and shown on the center-field scoreboard after the top of the first inning.
Fans recognized Buehrle with a standing ovation when his presence was first acknowledged, with Buehrle climbing over the dugout rail and acknowledging the fans and his family in attendance. That same standing ovation followed the video tribute, accompanied by applause from White Sox players, with Buehrle once again tipping his cap.
"You'd expect him to get big applause," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who never managed Buehrle. "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."
This current campaign with the Blue Jays has been far from perfect for either the 34-year-old Buehrle or his team, although Buehrle (2-4) believes things are going better individually now being more on the same page with catcher J.P. Arencibia. Buehrle admitted that if he returns to baseball after he eventually retires, it would be with the White Sox.
But the sure-bet jersey retirement and statue dedication on the U.S. Cellular concourse can wait for a bit, said a smiling Buehrle, as it would mean another big media session. In fact, Buehrle would have rather pitched in this series and faced the White Sox for a second time this season to avoid the series-opening scrum.
"Obviously, you guys know me. I'm not a big media guy and not crazy about doing this," Buehrle said, who beat the White Sox in Toronto on April 15. "I joked around with [Toronto manager John Gibbons] a couple weeks ago when I had one win and it was against the White Sox that maybe I should request to pitch here to get my second win. It's just the way it felt."