CHICAGO -- Returning to U.S Cellular Field for the first time since leaving the Chicago White Sox as a free agent in 2011 seemed natural for Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle, and the only thing that appears to have changed is his uniform.
Buehrle said before Monday night's game that the White Sox are the team he could see himself working with after his playing career is finished.
“I think if I came back to baseball it would be with the White Sox,” the popular lefthander said. “If it is something where I can be at home a lot, maybe to talk to people or do some little stuff, then I might.”
Buehrle was greeted as soon as the Blue Jays’ plane landed on Sunday night by some real fans of Chicago.
“It feels different, but getting off the plane last night a couple of the bag handlers said, ‘Welcome back, Mr. Buehrle,’” he said. “I got in the car and drove home. I stayed in the suburbs and to be honest with you, it felt normal.”
After leaving the Sox, Buerhle signed a four-year deal with the Miami Marlins before he was traded to Toronto last winter. While it took a while, the adjustment to his new team has been a success.
“It started out terrible,” he said. “Personally, I feel I have been pitching better lately. Team-wise we have gotten on a little roll and win three or four in a row, then lose three or four in a row. Team-wise it hasn’t been the best and for me the numbers aren’t what they are supposed to be.”
Buerhle admits it is tough adjusting to not being a member of the White Sox even after a two-year separation. The White Sox played a three-minute video tribute to Buehrle after the first inning Monday night and he came out and saluted the crowd.
“I feel like this is home because I was here so long,” he said.
“Really, right now I am concentrating on getting ready for Texas in the next couple of days. The guys here (Toronto) now are good friends, this is what I am used to and what I am supposed to be.”
“I don’t think I am a vocal leader,” he said. “I don’t get into people’s face or tell them what to do. I just try to lead by example and do stuff on the field, hopefully the right way. I guess people see that and maybe they think they have to because I was here so long. I was just good friends with both of those guys on and off of the field. I think both of them are better than I am pitching-wise. It does mean a lot when people say that kind of stuff.”
White Sox captain Paul Konerko played with Buerhle for 12 seasons. He is the only Sox member left from the 25-man roster that won the World Series in 2005.
“For me he is the first guy I think of when it comes to great teammates,” Konerko said. “Of all the great moments I have had here with the team he is included in all of them. He is a great team guy, great guy in the clubhouse and on the bench. We played our younger and more impactful parts of our careers together.”
Konerko said that Buerhle was viewed differently than most pitchers he played with.
“One trait that he always had was that had the respect of the position players,” Konerko said. “He kind of fit in like a position player and that is hard to do most of the time for a pitcher. There have been others ,but not very many.”
Konerko believes if the Sox had made an offer Buehrle would still be pitching in Chicago.
“I know that was his desire,” Konerko said. “I know he is going to do well and make the best of his situation. I also know if it was up to him he would still be wearing this uniform. No one on the outside should think it was any of Mark’s doing that he left because it just wasn’t.”