Even without a deal for next season, A.J. Pierzynski says he is ‘in a better spot’
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN firstname.lastname@example.org April 19, 2012 8:48PM
A.J. Pierzynski, 35, says he wants to return to the Sox and is determined to enjoy the season. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: May 21, 2012 8:59AM
A.J. Pierzynski has been down this road before. This time, the pavement is smoother, and every light he hits is green.
When the White Sox catcher was entering a contract year two seasons ago, he wanted badly to extend his career on the South Side, and he took a wrong turn by taking it upon himself to prove his worth. It was the wrong approach, and his performance on the field suffered for it.
Pierzynski, 35, wants to come back in 2013 and he’s playing like he’s on a mission to prove it with a .400 average, .829 slugging percentage, four homers and 13 RBI that rank among the American League leaders. Never regarded as the best throwing catcher in baseball — the Sox ranked last in steals allowed last year — Pierzynski has thrown out two of three would-be base stealers in the first 12 games.
“Mentally I’m in a better spot,’’ Pierzynski told the Sun-Times on Thursday. “Last time [two years ago] I wanted to really come back here — not that I still don’t. We had some conversations about a contract during spring training, and it didn’t go very well and it put me in a bad mind-set going into the season.’’
And into a poor start.
“Looking back I wish we hadn’t even talked about it,’’ Pierzynski said. “This year we didn’t talk about it and professionally and personally I’m in a better spot. I’m trying to enjoy the year and not worry about other things.’’
Pierzynski was close to becoming a Los Angeles Dodger when chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, a big fan of the catcher whose seven seasons in a Sox uniform included the 2005 World Series championship, agreed to a two-year, $8 million contract that pays $6 million this year.
The Sox are in a different mode now, trimming payroll, blending in younger talent and looking to the future. Tyler Flowers, who started in the Sox’ 5-3 loss to the Orioles on Thursday, is the heir apparent catcher earning one-twelfth the money Pierzynski makes.
All of which makes it possible that this could be the fan favorite’s last hurrah on the South Side.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,’’ Pierzynski said. “I obviously want to come back here and finish my career here, but at the same time the team has to want you back, too. I feel like if it happens that would be great. That’s what I would want. But at the same time, I understand if it doesn’t work out, then I had a great time here.
“Will I miss it? Of course, but hopefully there will be another team that thinks I can play.’’
The Sox aren’t exactly showing him the door. But they are in no rush to commit this soon, either.
“A.J. has been a valuable guy from the day he put on a Sox uniform,’’ general manager Ken Williams told the Sun-Times. “I truly feel he is one guy that other players feed off his energy and commitment to win. He knows that our best chance to win is if everyone is focused on that day’s game and nothing else. That is the goal and focus, and matters involving 2013 are tabled in the interest of a distraction-free environment.’’
Pierzynski said during SoxFest that he has nothing left to prove. A two-time All-Star who is the only active catcher to reach 1,000 innings for 10 consecutive seasons (he went on the disabled list for the first time last season), he’s probably right.
“The way things happened in spring training [two years ago] I went into it thinking I had to prove to them that I deserve to come back instead of just going out and playing and do what I can do,’’ he said. “And I got off to a bad start and it snowballed from there.’’
Pierzynski continues to be lauded by coaches and teammates for his work ethic and preparation. With nothing to prove, he goes about his business as if he has a lot to prove.
“My motivation is to go out and play,’’ he said. “I love baseball, I love playing the game and the competition of it. The motivation is to keep playing. I don’t know anything else. This is all I’ve done my whole life.’’