Saturday, September 5, 2009
Pierzynski a Sox man, Florida fan A.J. Pierzynski might wear black and white, but he bleeds orange and blue.
The White Sox catcher is a huge fan of the Florida Gators' football team. Huge might not even be a big enough word to describe Pierzynski's fandom. He has a Percy Harvin jersey in his locker, and a football helmet signed by Florida coach Urban Meyer and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow. He's a season-ticket holder who makes it a point to drive to every home game in Gainesville and some of the away games when he's not playing. He also has what every big leaguer craves this time of year when the new college football season arrives: bragging rights.
Sox man and Florida fan A.J. Pierzynski shows off his Gator pride.
His Gators begin their defense of the national championship Saturday night against Charleston Southern. I caught up with the biggest Florida football fan in baseball Friday night, and we discussed a number of topics concerning his favorite team:
Nick Friedell: If you were going to describe to somebody who didn't follow football, specifically SEC football, what it was like, what would you say?
A.J. Pierzynski: In the South, especially the Southeast, it's like religion, basically. You have your team, and every Saturday, everything kind of shuts down in those cities and around those areas. People love it. You have one team and you pick your team and you live and die with them. Everyone I know is like that, and it's just the way people are raised [there], whereas up here, there's not really a big college that everyone loves. Notre Dame, I guess, is as close as it comes. In Florida, you have Florida, Florida State, Miami; [you] pick one and you love that one and you hate the rest. It's just the way it is. It's the way I was raised, and that's the way it's always been, and we'll be like that for a long time. It's just different.
NF: I don't think people know that you go to every game once the baseball season ends.
AJP: Yeah, I go to every Florida game [that is a] home game [Pierzynski's offseason home is in Orlando, Fla.]. Road games are different, because I like to spend time at home when I can, but if there's a big road game, I'll go. Like [if Florida is playing in] the SEC championship or the national championship, I'll be there. I go to every game I can make it to, if it's at all possible. I have season tickets and know a ton of people at the university and on the football staff, and they're good people and they take care of me.
NF: When you go to the games, are you like every other fan? Do you sit there and tailgate?
AJP: Yeah, do the whole thing, yeah. Get there early, tailgate, stay for the game, tailgate a little bit sometimes after, let the traffic die down; I'm just like a normal fan. I don't zoom in and zoom out. I do the whole thing and I enjoy it; it's fun.
NF: Have you gotten a chance to talk to Tebow before?
AJP: Yeah, I've met him a few times. He's a good guy, a really nice guy, a great person. Everything you see on TV, that's what he's like in real life. He's just a nice guy, really humble, and he's been a great college quarterback, obviously, and hopefully he'll have a great year this year.
NF: Have you met a lot of fellow UF fans up here in Chicago?
AJP: No, no. When I'm here, I kind of lay low. I'm sure there's some around here, though, but I lay low here, spend as much time at home and away from everybody and try to hide as much as I possibly can. Every once in a while I run into some people [who] went there; it's always nice to see a happy face and hear someone say, "Go Gators."
NF: When you're in the clubhouse, though, it's a different story. You've got bragging rights.
AJP: Oh yeah, it's great. The guys in here hate it, but it's part of it. When another team wins or when Texas wins or Oklahoma or whoever, you gotta hear about it. When Georgia won, beat Florida a couple years ago, I had to hear about it from [hitting coach Greg] Walker. He had bragging rights for a year. But, obviously, last year Florida won a national championship, and they're No. 1 this year, so until someone knocks them off, I still have the bragging rights, and it's fun because guys get a little sick of it, but that just makes you want to egg it on more because the more they hate it, the more you know it gets under their skin and it bothers them.
NF: If you had to give out the scouting report for the Gators this year, what would it be? Is anyone going to knock them off?
AJP: Umm, the LSU game is obviously [tough]. [You] always worry about going to LSU at night. Georgia, you're always worried about. Any time they have to go to South Carolina, they always seem to struggle a little bit there. Other than that, the SEC championship game if they get there, whether they're playing LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss, that's always a tough neutral site [game]. It's fun. That's what makes college football so fun, because you don't know what's going to happen. You live or die with each game, but people stay healthy and they're ready for the next week because they're young kids and there's so much pressure and expectations on kids that are 18, 19 years old -- it's amazing.
NF: In terms of passion, is there anything comparable in college football to baseball?
AJP: I guess the Yankees and Red Sox would be about as close as you could get. I would say the Red Sox [have] almost like a college following. Not that I've seen [it]. Because there are so many games in baseball, you can't get up [emotionally every time]. There's one game a week in football; there's six or seven home games a year. Everyone plans their whole year around [the schedule] to make sure they get to those games. You plan parties every week for them and this and that, so it's just different. It's just a different atmosphere and it's a different thing; until you experience it and go to those games and see the passion from the people ... once you've been there for a few years, you get to know the same people that are by your seats, and the people where you tailgate, you get to know them, so it just becomes almost a family atmosphere.
NF: Is Florida going to beat Georgia this year? Are you and [UGA alum] Gordon Beckham going to go to the game together?
AJP: Oh, Beckham won't go to the game. Greg [Walker] went with me last year, and he won't go ever again after Florida stomped Georgia, so he won't go ever again, and Beckham is scared to go this year, I don't know why, but he doesn't want to go this year, either. I don't know.
NF: Is Tebow going to win another Heisman this year?
AJP: It's gonna be tough. Obviously, I wish him nothing but the best. I'd rather have him win another national championship than him win the Heisman. It's so tough for him to win another one, once you win that first one; they expect you to do so much more. Any time a fresh face pops up on the scene, everyone automatically looks at them, so it's gonna be tough, but I wish him the best.
NF: Do you think the Gators are going to win it all again?
AJP: I hope so. I'm not gonna say that, but I sure hope so. I think they have the talent. You never know. [If the] wrong person gets hurt [at the] wrong time, anything can happen.