Pierzynski not feeling ... or looking his age
ED LEE / email@example.com After A.J Pierzynski tags out twins Michael Cuddyer at home in the 5th White Sox vs Minnesota Twins Central Division tiebreaker game. ¬
At 35 years old, most catchers are patching it together with spit, gum and spare body parts.
"I know I could barely walk out of the ballpark at that point," said White Sox bench coach Mark Parent, who played in 34 games at age 36 and then retired. "That late in your career, it's all about health."
And, yet, here is A.J. Pierzynski at age 35, in his 12th full season of catching every day. He's a lock to catch 1,000 innings for the 11th consecutive season, a streak unmatched by any active catcher, having moved into 27th place all time in games caught.
It would seem, then, an odd time to have his best season, but Pierzynski is off to his best start.
He's throwing the ball better than at any time in his White Sox career and he's hitting .286 with a career-high .840 OPS. He's on pace for career highs as well in home runs (28) and RBI (96).
The timing is perfect for both the Sox and Pierzynski, as he's in a contract year and the Sox were desperate for another potent bat in the lineup.
And the results may be due, at least in part, to his 5-year-old son, Austin.
"I didn't really do much different over the winter," Pierzynski said. "The only thing I changed was I may have hit a little bit more than I usually do.
"My son likes to go to the (baseball) field, so I would pick him up from school a lot and go to the field and hit. So I ended up hitting more."
And he hasn't stopped. Pierzynski leads American League catchers in homers (12) and RBI (41), is second in batting and OPS to Joe Mauer, and has a fair shot at the all-star team, while helping the Sox to a better start than just about anyone outside the clubhouse expected.
So while many wondered if this season would be the end for Pierzynski, he could find a two-year deal on the open market.
"I feel like I've got a lot to offer and I want to keep playing as long as I'm healthy and playing well, and my family is OK with it," Pierzynski said. "My wife is really great about it. We've been through a lot and she still enjoys it, still likes coming to the park and watching the games.
"She's able to handle the stress of basically being a single mom for eight months a year, raising the kids on her own. It's not easy. As long as she wants me to play, I'll keep coming to the park."
Austin can often be seen bounding about the clubhouse or hitting on the field early on Sunday mornings when the ballpark is empty. His dad pitches and has been known to take a line drive or two in the shins.
It brings to mind some players who stayed around beyond the age they thought they'd play so that their sons could enjoy the experience, especially when the kids start to realize their dads are famous ballplayers.
"I don't think he's there yet," Pierzynski said of his son. "He comes to the park and has fun. He knows all the guys and they all know him. It's very cool.
"He doesn't even realize how special this is, to have this kind of life because he's so used to it. He thinks this is normal, like all dads are major-leaguers and get to play a game for a living.
"It's just great seeing him run around and have fun."
Pierzynski is also having fun this year and it's led him to ponder a few more years in the game.
"I came in with a different attitude,'' Pierzynski said. "I told myself I wasn't going to get as frustrated with everything and it wasn't life and death.
"It's easier said than done because I take a lot of pride in my job, but you still have to enjoy it."
Whether that's led to a better performance, only Pierzynski knows. But he's played well and now with two more years catching full time after this season, he's got a chance to climb into the top 10 all time in games caught in the big leagues.
"He can play every day and that's huge," Parent said. "Most catchers his age aren't in as good a shape as he's in. Most guys get told when they're done because they're hurting and breaking down like crazy. He just continues to play."
Pierzynski isn't ready to think about 2013, but he might have to if the Sox fall out the race and he becomes a hot commodity on the trade market, where a half dozen teams — including the Yankees, Angels and Mets — could use some help.
Before Pierzynski waives his 10-and-5 rights, he would be foolish not to ask for something in return, like another year on his deal.
"You want to maximize the opportunity to have fun and play in a pennant race because you just don't know," Pierzynski said. "But it's the middle of the season and I'm not thinking about next year.
"When I'm done, it won't matter if it's the middle of a season or the end. That'll be the time. But as long as my body holds up and I can play well and have fun, I'll keep playing."
And as long as the Sox stay in the race, he'll be playing in Chicago.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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