Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Has Mark Buehrle made his last White Sox start?

This AP image accompanied Rick Gano's coverage this morning on Yahoo! Sports.

Toni Ginnetti's article in this morning's Sun-Times says it's uncertain whether the Sox will re-sign Buehrle. Which may mean there's hope. I know this much: If Buehrle's gone, it's a Dunn deal.

As if Mr. Dunn needs more pressure heaped upon him.

Just in case he doesn't come back, the Sox gave Buehrle a classy sendoff last night. Buehrle was even pushed out of the dugout (by Paul Konerko, according to Ginnetti) to take a curtain call in front of the sparse, but vocal, crowd present at the Cell -- and for those of us watching at home.

I have a personal reason to be grateful to Mr. Buehrle. It will take a small narrative diversion to explain why.

White Sox Opening Day is an annual highlight for me. I've attended almost every year since law school. I remember sitting in right field on Opening Day 1978. (Steve Stone was the starting pitcher that day.) It was the bottom of the 9th and I was making disparaging remarks about Ron Blomberg, the Rent-a-Player engaged by Mr. Veeck to make White Sox fans forget about Richie Zisk, the 1977 model. Blomberg had gone 0 for 4 in his debut to that point. Phil Zukowsky thought my criticisms unfair and expressed a desire that Mr. Blomberg hit the next pitch right at my head. And, sure enough, he did: White Sox 6, Red Sox 5. (And, no, I didn't get the ball.)

In the years that followed I had weekend tickets to the ballpark (which carried with them a right to buy tickets for Opening Day). After this luxury had to be sacrificed to the necessity of the kids' tuition payments, Mike McGowan has been kind enough to include me in his party. I was his guest on Opening Day in that magical year of 2005.

Mark Buehrle started that game and worked a quick eight innings (Shingo Takatsu had the 9th) for a 1-0 shutout of the Cleveland Indians. Quick? Baseball Almanac says the game ran only 1:51; you can look it up.

And that created an opportunity for me. My son Joe, then a senior at Notre Dame High School in Niles, was supposed to pitch for the Dons that day. I didn't know about his scheduled start until after I'd committed to the Sox game. Thanks to Mr. Buehrle's fast pace (he may not throw hard, but he pitches quickly) I had the chance to catch the Notre Dame game, too. Mike and I jumped in my car and we headed north.

I don't recall who the Dons were facing that day. It may have been Glenbrook North; that was a traditional early season non-conference foe. If so, that may have been the day that Joe struck out Jason Kipnis, then a senior at GBN, who now earns a paycheck from the aforementioned Cleveland Indians. In my imagination, that's probably how things went down. I have a very good imagination.

I won't claim that Mike and I got to see all of Joe's performance that day; even my imagination isn't that good. But we saw some of it, and, as I recollect, Joe (who was himself a soft-tossing southpaw) got the W.

Anyway, even if Mr. Buehrle does move on, I will remain forever grateful, not just for the no hitter and the perfect game and the amazing play on Opening Day 2010 and all the other highlights -- but also because I got to see some of Joe's game on April 4, 2005.

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