- Doug Padilla, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Still just a good ol’ boy from Missouri, Mark Buehrle hopes there won't be a fuss for his return to the U.S. Cellular Field mound on Saturday, but he is prepared for anything.
Buehrle will pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays opposite Chicago White Sox starter John Danks in his first outing at his former ballpark since he left before the 2012 season when he signed a free-agent contract with the Miami Marlins.
"I'm sure it will be different," said Buehrle, who was traded to Toronto after one year in Miami. "I'm going to try not to make it too different for myself and go out there and treat it as any other game, but I'm sure there's going to be some emotions, just different feelings pitching, getting on the mound the first time in a couple of years. I'm just going to try to go out there and get outs."
Buehrle and Danks have sent text messages back and forth in recent days agreeing that it would have really been mano a mano if it was a National League game where each of them could also come to the plate. As it is, they will make the best of it.
"I think really the only difference will be the lead up to the game," Danks said. "Me and him have sent texts and talked trash. I'm answering questions about it. But truly deep down I think tomorrow when we get to the field it will just be another typical game."
In the early going, it wouldn't be a surprise if it was Buehrle who got the biggest cheers, but as the game gets going that figures to change.
"It's nice to come back where you played for so long and hopefully get cheered. I don't know, I haven't pitched here," Buehrle said. "I remember Frank [Thomas] got cheered, his first [at-bat]. He hit two home runs and started getting booed. If I pitch too good I might get booed walking off the mound, I don't know."
In some sense, Saturday's matchup could be a statement game for Buehrle if he wanted to look at it that way. After all, Buehrle's contract requests were not met and he departed, signing with the Marlins for four years and $58 million. The team met Danks' contract terms weeks later, signing him to a five-year, $65 million contract.
"Obviously when I didn’t sign back and they gave him that deal, obviously it came to the point they had money to spend and wanted to spend it on a younger guy," Buehrle said. "I'm not bitter. I'd have loved to spend my whole career here and still be here to this day, but it's part of the game and it happened."
Like Danks, pitching coach Don Cooper will be happy to see Buehrle again, he just won't be rooting for him this time.
"Sure, he is one of my favorites, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to beat him tomorrow," Cooper said. "Because of the longevity and time we spent together and winning a World Series championship, him being one of those guys that helped me wear a ring and that staff period, I'll always be grateful for that."
Cooper considered Buehrle to be one of the easiest pitchers he has ever dealt with in his time with the White Sox.
"I held the towel for Buehrle and gave him a cup of water and wound him up and put him out there every five days," Cooper said. "I remember people telling me when I first got the job, you are going to be able to relax on Buehrle's day, sit back and enjoy the game. That wasn't the case because we needed to win and Buehrle was our best chance to win. It wasn't sit back and relax.
"The one thing I always said about Buehrle is there was a 6-out-of-10 chance we are going to win this game and there's a pretty damn good chance it's going to be 2 hours, 10 minutes. He trained everybody."
Maybe it was because Buehrle never really threw very hard that White Sox fans were able to relate to him, or maybe it was his modesty, his aw-shucks way or just the fact that he put up productive numbers for so long that earned him respect.
When it comes to a favorite memory at U.S. Cellular Field outside of his perfect game, he paused.
"I won't pinpoint one time, but I think even when we got back here [Thursday], driving to the city and out in the suburbs where I lived for 12 years, just staying out there, everything felt normal, like I never left," he said. "Just going to grocery stores, everything I did when I was here for so long, just the last day and a half, it feels great."
Would he ever come back to the White Sox and pitch again?
"I've got to be healthy and somebody's got to want me in a year and a half," he said. "I could retire, I could make a comeback. I don't know. I've got a year and a half. I'm not thinking about it."
Perhaps more realistically is that Buehrle could appear at SoxFest over the winter as the team begins to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2005 World Series title. And there is always a chance Buehrle could take a day away from his club to be in Chicago when the club honors that team on the field next year.
"SoxFest might be a little easier to go to," Buehrle said. "I need to talk to the Blue Jays and see if that's something they wouldn't mind, but during the season? I don't know. It's going to be tough. First teammates are going to be wearing me out if I'm leaving, if I'm not pitching and I'm gone for a day. I'd feel pretty weird. I've got to think about it and talk to some people."
When it comes to awkward moments, first things first. He just wants to get past Saturday's homecoming start in a different uniform.
"I think if this was after the year I left, I think it would be more emotional and a lot harder to come back," he said. "Obviously coming back last year for a few games and then facing [the White Sox] in Toronto, I think that's the weirdest thing is seeing the guys getting in the batter's box wearing a White Sox uniform, so since I've done all that. I still think it's going to feel weird being here but I don't think it'll be as weird as if it would've happened right after."