Rangers loaded with Chicago expatriates
The White Sox are back in town tonight with a season-high six-game winning streak, and over 30,000 fans are expected at U.S. Cellular Field to watch the first of three games against Texas.
Unfortunately for the Sox, the big crowd is not coming to watch a potential playoff preview against the Rangers.
Most are probably heading to the South Side because it's Elvis Night, a popular annual event that includes a postgame concert and fireworks.
And many are likely heading to the Cell to welcome back A.J. Pierzynski, the polarizing catcher who played for the White Sox from 2005-12 before signing a one-year free-agent contract with Texas.
A.J. is happy to be back, and I suspect he'll get some big applause tonight, especially during his video tribute.
"This obviously was a special place, and I had a lot of great memories," Pierzynski said while sitting in the Rangers' dugout earlier this afternoon. "It's fun to come back and see everybody. It's strange looking at it from this side. It has been 10 years since I looked at it from this side. Coming in today, seeing people, the people who nobody knows, the workers, the behind the scenes people, it's cool. I miss those people. I miss the city and the fans. It's nice to come back and I'll be honest, I'll be happy when it's over and I can just move on."
Texas arrived in town last night, and Pierzynski had dinner with former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. The duo were big keys in the run to the 2005 World Series championship.
“Obviously, the World Series is No. 1,” Pierzynski said when asked about his favorite memory. “No one can ever take that away from that group of guys. It's a very special group of guys that came together and got along and did special things in a city that hadn't seen that in almost 100 years. Those guys are friends of mine for life and those are still some of my best friends on earth, the guys on that team. That's No. 1. Then, off the field, both my kids were born here. This is all they knew until this year, they only knew White Sox.”
There is a definite Chicago feel in the Rangers’ clubhouse.
Alex Rios was traded from the Sox to Texas two weeks ago, and the Rangers also have two former White Sox relievers – Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor.
Cotts is a great story.
He was a key member of the Sox’ bullpen in 2005, and he is back in baseball after missing much of the past four years due to elbow and hip surgeries.
In 40 relief appearances with the Rangers this season, Cotts is 5-2 with a miniscule 1.30 ERA.
“It's exciting to come back,” Cotts said. “No matter coming back as a player, as a fan 20 years down the road, I think it's still going to bring back memories of an exciting time we had that year (’05).”
Former Cubs Matt Garza (he starts vs. Sox Sunday), Geovany Soto and Jeff Baker are also on Texas’ roster.
Rios has never been to the playoffs, but the right fielder has a great shot at playing in October this year.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” Rios said of joining the Rangers. “It was a very warm welcome. Since the first day I thought that I was part of the family. That's how good they received me. It hasn't been that bad.”