By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The 39-year-old catcher still has a soft spot in his heart for the city of Chicago.
After reaching the milestone of 2,000 career hits earlier in the week, A.J. Pierzynski returned Friday to the city he used to call home, starting for his Braves as they took on the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“I enjoy coming back here, it’s still fun,” Pierzynski said. “When you drive through the streets, you have memories of the many places you went to, where you lived, where you went to eat lunch. It will always be kind of my second home.”
Pierzynski played eight seasons for the White Sox, from 2005-’12. He’s one of 10 catchers in big league history to reach 2,000 hits, which he accomplished Wednesday.
“It was one of the cool moments of my career,” Pierzynski said. “You get to a milestone like that and you get a text from guys like (Paul) Konerko saying, ‘It took you long enough.’ It certainly is one of those cool moments, cool things and something that you’re definitely proud of. This is something you look back and say, ‘This is one of the highlights.'”
A Florida native, Pierzynski has had a tremendous career, now in his 19th big league season. He’s also 11th all-time in games caught with 1,887. The feisty Pierzynski can climb to sixth on that list if he catches 68 or more games this season.
“I don’t care what position you play, to get that many hits is hard,” Pierzynski said. “Add in the catching position, and it adds a little bit to it. As a catcher, I guess the number speak for themselves.”
The sometimes difficult personality of Pierzynski has manifested itself in teammates who swear by him and swear at him.
“A.J. is a guy who needs to build up an edge every day to play,” a former teammate said. “He in turn (upsets) some guys along the way. I admire his competitiveness and grit. He works hard and keeps himself in great condition. The other stuff you can live without.”
Pierzynski should have opportunities to broadcast or go into a team’s organization if he wants to continue to work after he retires. For now, he plays for arguably the worst team in baseball — the Braves were an MLB-worst 5-17 entering Friday — and figures to be a candidate to get traded to a playoff contender later in the season.
“I don’t have control of that,” Pierzynski said of moving to another club. “I have no control over that. I would like to help turn the Braves around. We will see what happens. If another teams wants me and the Braves think it’s a fair deal, I am sure they will pull the trigger.”
There are, of course, a couple clubs you can almost certainly rule out ever pursuing Pierzynski — the Cubs and White Sox, who are both down a catcher currently.
“I don’t think either one of those teams will be calling for me anytime soon,” Pierzynski said. “Trust me on that.”
For now, Pierzynski isn’t looking at the big picture. He still enjoys the game, and he hasn’t decided whether he’ll call it a career after 2016.
So it’s 19 years in the big leagues and counting for the dogged and determined Pierzynski, who brings the same attitude to the job every day, like it or not.
“I always tell people I am day to day, year to year,” Pierzynski said. “I still enjoy playing baseball. I love competing. There are some things not so great. I have a 9- and a 10-year-old. You miss a lot, my son’s games, my daughter’s volleyball tourneys. That is the hard part. The game is still fun and physically I am fine .I still like playing. I don’t know, we will see.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.