CHICAGO – Cubs fans never miss out on an opportunity to heckle catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
The yearly ritual of booing public enemy No. 1 nearly ended when the White Sox did not re-sign Pierzynski during the offseason. But after signing with Texas, the Rangers visited Wrigley Field Tuesday for the first time since 2002, bringing with them the player fans love to hate.
Before the game Pierzynski was doubtful Cubs fans would give him a warmer welcome after he traded the White Sox uniform he wore eight seasons for Ranger red and blue. But teammate Lance Berkman’s comments to Texas reporters – “If they’re looking for a guy to push the button when they blow the place up, I’ll do it ... Chicago’s one of the worst places in baseball … really for anything,” he said. – helped take some of the focus off a thankful Pierzynski.
“I’m pretty sure they won’t,” Pierzynski said with a laugh. “I’m just happy with Lance and what he said so he can get some of the treatment instead of me.”
Pierzynski was right. What the crowd lacked in volume they made up for in noise, eagerly booing Pierzynski when he stepped to the plate to lead off the second inning, which continued throughout the night.
Pierzynski wasn’t alone in his return to Chicago. Catcher Geovany Soto, who the Cubs traded to Texas in July, and utility man Jeff Baker, who was dealt to Detroit in August, also made their first visit to Wrigley since leaving last year. Soto admitted it felt a bit strange walking into the visitor’s clubhouse when he arrived at Wrigley ahead of Tuesday’s series opener.
“When I was here I gave it my all, I left my heart out there,” Soto said. “There’s no regrets. You play hard and try to get a championship. … I have a lot of awesome memories here, and it feels like home.”
Pierzynski still keeps in touch with his former Sox teammates. He texted with Paul Konerko after the Sox faced ex-teammate Mark Buehrle Monday in Toronto. He also reached out to second baseman Gordon Beckham when he heard he needed surgery on his left wrist. The Rangers make their first visit of the season to U.S. Cellular Field April 30-May 2.
“There’s no hard feelings towards the organization,” Pierzynski said. “I wish those guys nothing but the best. But it’ll be different obviously when we play the White Sox at U.S. Cellular and I’m in the other clubhouse on the other side. It’s going to be weird but something you have to get used to.”
Both Pierzynski and Soto said they have a great relationship with each other, though they haven’t completely rehashed the Cubs and Sox rivalry. Soto’s situation as the Rangers’ backup catcher hasn’t hurt the communication aspect of their growing relationship either.
“When both of us were really good, it was really fun to play in these games because everyone expected something special to happen and most of the time it involved something that I had to do,” Pierzynski said of the crosstown rivalry. “People were just waiting for something to happen.”