Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski is keeping a diary this season for ESPNBoston.com. In this installment, he goes over what the hardest part of being on a new team is, why he was once on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and what Final Four team he is a die-hard fan of. (As told to Louise K. Cornetta)
I'm more comfortable with the pitchers now that we've gone through spring training. After being together for six or seven weeks, you get to see what guys are all about, play with them and be around them every day. But you never really get comfortable until guys go through the rotation a few times and you go on road trips and fly around with guys and get to know them on a little more personal level. Having faced all these guys, I knew how good they were. What I've been amazed about is how hard they work and how much they want to compete and win. You always understand that, but once you're on someone's team, you see how much confidence and belief they have in themselves.
As a catcher, you need to be a part-time psychologist to understand everyone's personality, and that's the hardest part of coming into a new team. The pitches are the pitches, but trying to figure out what you need to say to a guy and when you need to say something is definitely the hardest adjustment. But that's also the fun part, because you get to know these pitchers on a different level than even position players.
I know how to speak one language when I confer on the mound with a pitcher, and that's baseball. But really, I know enough Spanish to get by, and I learned a little bit of Japanese last season from Yu Darvish when I was with Texas. But Koji [Uehara] and Taz [Junichi Tazawa], like Darvish, speak enough English to get by. Japanese is a hard language to learn, but I've known enough Spanish for a while to get by pretty well.
I was very lucky that Jason Varitek was around spring training and I was able to pick his brain. We talked a lot. To have a resource like him, you're foolish if you don't use it. If he's around and willing to help you, if you say no to that, then there is something wrong with you. He was around and wanted to help. We didn't get into anything real specific, just little things about the game, things he's seen from guys. I told him if he ever sees anything to make sure he gives me a call, and we'll get it settled right then.
I'm more of an aggressive hitter, and the Red Sox like to work the count. People have asked if I'm going to change my plate approach. I always want to try to walk. It just never happens. The problem is when I swing, I usually hit the ball, so I make early outs. I'm just trying to get better pitches. Everyone has talked to me about this, and the Red Sox have talked to me, but they said they don't want to change what I do. They just want me to make sure I get a good pitch to put a good swing on and we'll go from there and take our chances.
While the team went to the White House last week, I spent the day with my family, who I had come up for Opening Day both in Baltimore and in Boston. Since we were in Baltimore, we went to the aquarium and walked around the city a little bit. It was a nice family day. Those off days are precious, especially when you're with your family on the road. It was nice to be able to enjoy it with them.
I went to the White House after the White Sox won the 2005 World Series. President George W. Bush was in office. It was a great experience because President Bush took some time to speak to each of us individually. I had been to the White House before in 1998 for the rookie development program when President Clinton was there, so I got to meet him. It was cool to see my teammates this year who had never been there before with how much awe they were in. The first time you go there, if you're lucky enough to get the opportunity, it really is awe-inspiring to know all the history and historic people who have been there. It's pretty cool to be able to say I went to the White House and [have] been inside.
I didn't bring up the [David] Ortiz selfie with President Obama because I know he kind of took some heat about it. I don't know the whole story, but, hey, he got a selfie with the president. There's not a lot of people who can say that, right? People should be proud of him.
As I mentioned, going to the White House was pretty cool, but if you asked my wife, she'd tell you when I was on [the] "Oprah [Winfrey Show]" was the cooler experience. She got to meet Oprah, and I did get a photo with her. It's funny, when I'd meet people when I was playing for Chicago, they'd ask me all the time if I'd ever met Oprah. I'd tell them that I was on Oprah, as she had us on after the White Sox won the World Series. People usually do a double-take and are like, "Wait, what?" They think it's so hard to get there and be on her show, so when they find out I've met her and been on her stage for an episode and talked to her, they think it's pretty cool.
I thought Opening Day was fun both in Baltimore and here in Boston. Opening Day is always fun. I thought the ring ceremony was touching. They did a great job with it, and I was glad I was able to see it. They made it emotional but in a classy way in which it didn't become bigger than what the moment was about. Obviously, you want to remember the people and all that happened with the [Boston] Marathon, but it's also a celebration of a championship. I thought they did a good job of combining the two with a celebration but also a remembrance of what happened last year.
It was nice to be cheered at Fenway, though I don't think I was ever booed here in the past. I don't think I ever did much against the Red Sox that would have warranted boos. It is nice being on the home side here. To have the support of 40,000 people every night is always a good thing. I've enjoyed being in the home clubhouse here at Fenway, but I will say they do a good job over on the visitor's side. As small as it is, and I know it's really small, they've added a hitting cage and a few amenities. It's a lot better now than it was 10 or 12 years ago when I was first going over there. I can't complain too much because it's still better than Wrigley's.
I will get my first taste of Yankees-Red Sox when we play them next weekend. What am I looking forward to with this series? I'm looking forward to the 4½-hour games that they seem to take every time, and maybe longer when you throw in replays now. But really, I'm just looking forward to being a part of the rivalry. I played in the Dodgers-Giants games when I was with San Francisco. I played in the Cubs-White Sox rivalry, which was a big one in the city of Chicago. Those games are always fun. Nineteen times a year is a lot, but it's what it's all about. It's the best rivalry in sports, and people live and die by it. It should be fun to be on one side of it instead of just watching it on ESPN.
I'll continue to end these diaries with telling you something you might not know about me. I'm a big Florida Gators fan really big. I grew up in Orlando, Fla. I started going to games when I was little and had a couple of family members who went there. I was at Steve Spurrier's first game when he was coach. I've been going to games since I was a kid. People up north might not understand how big college football is in the South, especially in the state of Florida and the Southeast. Every Saturday, if the Gators are on, we stop what we're doing and watch the game.
I have season tickets to the football team, and I go to a few of their basketball games. I was able to go to this year's NCAA tournament game for Florida against Albany. I really enjoy going to Florida games and have gotten to know a lot of people there over the years. Now, you would think one of the reasons I get along with David Ross so well is because he went to Florida, but he doesn't claim Florida, where he went his junior year. He claims Auburn, where he went the first two years of college. So we're not friends kidding.
With Florida in the Final Four, I obviously was rooting for a win. A win would have made me really happy, but, unfortunately, the Gators lost. I used to get really made about that stuff. When they'd lose, it used to ruin my whole day. As I've gotten older and had kids, it doesn't affect me as much as it used to. I was able to go to Indy to see them win in 2006 when they beat UCLA. I already got to see them do things I never thought I'd see them do. I never thought I'd see them win a basketball national championship, and they've won two. I never thought I'd see them win a football national championship, and they've won three. It's pretty cool, especially since I've been able to go to a lot of these and actually see them win in person and be a small part, however insignificant it is. At least as a fan I'm able to say I got to go to those games.
We went shopping this weekend for Gators gear. My kids all wear it. They were all wearing their Gators gear getting ready for the Final Four. As we were in the Target checkout line buying some merchandise, the cashier commented on it being a big game, but he was a UConn fan. The kids laughed as they're experiencing being in UConn territory. I'll always say "Go Gators," but congratulations to UConn for making the finals.