CLEVELAND – For the ninth time, and quite possibly the last, Mark Buehrle will usher in a White Sox season when he takes the mound Friday on Opening Day.
Now in his 12th big-league season, all on the South Side, Buehrle could be faced with the reality of experiencing the last ‘this’ and the last ‘that’ of his White Sox career as his contract is set to expire at the end of the year.
Paul Konerko knows what that’s like. He went through the same thing all last season when he was in the final year of a five-year deal. He started the season with uncertainty and ended it the same way, not learning he was coming back until over two months after the 2010 campaign ended.
“I’m sure there will be some situations where he might think, ‘This might be the last day I start an opener for the White Sox,’ or ‘This might be the last time I pitch here for the White Sox,’” Konerko said. “Those things might cross his mind just because he’s aware of how long he’s been here and loves the fact that he’s been here, I think. There are some sentimental things that will creep in at times but I don’t think from a contract free agency standpoint nothing will distract him in that sense.”
Konerko calls Buehrle a “takes-it-as-it-comes guy,” who isn’t “too analytical,” which sounds like a nice way of calling somebody a simple thinker. If that sounds harsh, Konerko has more up his sleeve for later in the season.
It seems that Buehrle was Konerko’s biggest pain in the rear last season while the first baseman was going through his potential final season in a White Sox uniform. Payback won’t be kind, but Buehrle thinks he has a way to control it.
“I have something on him so he can’t get on me too much,” Buehrle said, curiously looking into his own locker. “And if he ever does, I’ll let it leak and we’ll have a nice story.”
Konerko doesn’t seem too worried so his secret can’t be all that bad. Hearing about Buehrle’s defense tactics, Konerko still said he would get his shots in.
“I’ll give him a couple of jabs here and there,” Konerko said. “He definitely guilted me into doing a lot of things because this was quote-unquote, the last year I’d play here. Now I’m back. But I’ll make sure and repay that favor this year when we have autograph day or something that deals with appearances and stuff like that to make sure he does those things because this could be the last year you see him in a White Sox uniform. I’ll make sure and let him know that.”
On a serious note, Buehrle said he has thought about the future on occasion.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It is kind of weird because this is where I’ve been my whole career and you kind of know each year you’re coming back. Obviously it has to come to an end whether it’s this year or five years down the road. It’s kind of weird.”
His current four-year extension was wrapped up in the middle of the 2007 season, but Buehrle has no idea if there will be a chance to strike a mid-summer deal this time around.
“I have no idea because I don’t know which rout the team’s going,” Buehrle said. “If they have some young guys they want to bring up instead of bringing me back, I have no clue. Like I said, I’m not too concerned about it. I’m going to go out there every five days and if talks do happen I’m sure my agent will let me know or the White Sox will let me know and we’ll go from there.”
So without fear or trepidation, Buehrle will take the mound Friday against the Indians and embrace his surroundings, but not because it might be his last opener with the White Sox. This is one of the best days of the year, according to Buehrle, and he would feel like that if he was on the mound or not.
“It obvious the adrenaline will be pumping tomorrow,” he said. “A couple of guys were talking about it last night, Opening Days are always fun. There’s all the buildup. Other than playoffs, or if you have to have a [one game playoff], there’s not many games that are bigger than tomorrow. Just try to hold our emotions down.”
They might be words to live by for an entire season.