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Sports

Brown & Gold: Baseball with A.J. at the annual banquet

A.J. Pierzynski former White Sox catcher keynote speaker on his way to the press confrence at the USF Brown&Gold banquet held on Wednesday, Nov. 08, 2017 at Sullivan Center University of St. Francis Joliet, Ill.
A.J. Pierzynski former White Sox catcher keynote speaker on his way to the press confrence at the USF Brown&Gold banquet held on Wednesday, Nov. 08, 2017 at Sullivan Center University of St. Francis Joliet, Ill.

JOLIET – Quite a few major league umpires probably are not huge fans of A.J. Pierzynski.

Joe West likely is on that list.

Pierzynski, the catcher on the White Sox world championship team of 2005 and now, after a stellar
19-year career, a baseball analyst for Fox Sports, was the guest speaker at Wednesday night’s 41st annual Brown & Gold athletic fundraising banquet at the University of St. Francis Sullivan Center.

“Joe West is awesome,” Pierzynski said, tongue in cheek. “He just needs to lose a couple pounds. But otherwise, I love the guy.”

Pierzynski proceeded to relate a tale. He was with the Atlanta Braves, catching a night game in spring training in 2016. In fact, he recalled Minooka’s Mike Foltynewicz being on the mound for the Braves.

“A pitch is right there ... ball,” Pierzynski said. “Another one on the edge ... ball. This was going on all night. It’s 9:30 at night in a spring training game, and [West] won’t call any strikes.

“So I keep talking to him. ‘Come on, it’s getting late. Don’t you want to get out of here?’ We’re in the fifth inning, and Brian McCann is at the plate for the Yankees. He listening to me talk to [West] and he keeps hiding his head under his helmet because he’s trying not to laugh.”

Finally, West decided he heard enough. “You want to get out of here?” West asked. Pierzynski said. “Yes I do. So West threw him out, and McCann had to laugh.

“McCann says, ‘Did he really throw you out of a spring training game?’ ” Pierzynski related. “You’re so lucky.”

That sort of story is what the crowd of 600 USF supporters enjoyed hearing.

The program began with Pierzynski’s autographed jersey going for $3,500 in the live auction, although he did throw in four tickets to a White Sox game in 2018, along with one of his bats, a ball and a pair of his baseball shoes.

Pierzynski played high school baseball in Orlando, Florida with another future major leaguer, Johnny Damon.

“I just saw him yesterday,” Pierzynski said. “He’s fat.”

Pierzynski said he was destined to catch on the junior varsity team his junior year of high school, but the senior varsity catcher got hurt and “then it took for me. The next year I was drafted and signed with the Twins.”

Pierzynski said the last two World Series have been “great, except for the winner in 2016 [the Cubs].” He let his dislike for the Cubs shine through at various points.

“The Cubs and Houston both are built for the long haul,” Pierzynski said. “Jose Altuve is amazing, the best player in baseball and he’s about 5-foot-3. Those teams are young.

“Houston really did it right, developing their young players and then bringing in veterans like McCann, [Josh] Reddick and then [Justin] Verlander.”

Pierzynski said the game’s stars are getting younger and younger because of the exposure they are receiving, playing on the national stage at 14, 15, 16 years old. Many of them are home run hitters when they arrive, and that’s treasured these days. Perhaps it is the ball, as some suggest.

“The ball is juiced,” Pierzynski said. “There’s something different about the ball when you feel it. The velocity is up, and home run hitters do not care about striking out. I remember what Adam Dunn told me once: ‘If you think you are going to hit into a double play, just do what I do – strike out.’ ”

The White Sox postseason run and World Series championship in 2005, of course, was the highlight of Pierzynski’s career.

“People thought we would kill the Angels [in the ALCS] because they were tired when they got to town,” Pierzynski said.

Instead, the Angels won, 2-1, in Game 1. The score was tied, 1-1, in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 2 when Kelvin Escobar struck out Pierzynski. But the ball was trapped by catcher Josh Paul and Pierzynski ran to first and was called safe as the Angels were leaving the field.

“Greg Walker – I’m sure all of you remember him – said, ‘You’re the only one stupid enough to run to first on that,’ ” Pierzynski said. “ ‘Look how embarrassing that would have been had they said you were out.’ ”

The Sox famously had four consecutive complete games – by Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia – swept the last four games from the Angels and swept Houston in four games in a World Series that actually was much more competitive than a 4-0 margin would suggest.

Pierzynski said he thoroughly enjoyed having won the World Series with the White Sox.

“There’s no better feeling than seeing people come out and support you the way they do in Chicago,” he said of the Sox’s season and celebratory parade. “When both the Cubs and White Sox are good, there is nothing like it.

“It’s just the [Cubs] fans sometimes. I get so sick of them.”

Another dig at the team about whom Pierzynski said, “My mission in life was to kill them.”

But on a serious note, he said, “It took the Cubs winning for the Sox to go through with this rebuilding they are doing. I hope it works. I wish the Sox would win more, however they do it.”

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