JUPITER, Fla. (MCT) — It’s going to take a while to get used to Mark Buehrle rocking one of those crazy orange-and-blue uniforms. It looks like he’s playing for the Cartoon Network softball team, not a Miami Marlins team that hopes to become a force in the National League East.
There are certain Buehrle trademarks that set him apart: a catch-and-throw pace on the mound, baserunners that stand as close to first base as anxious parents do to their children on the New York subway and pitches that rarely miss the strike zone by more than an eyelash. Oh, and he also has spoiled us with frequent appearances in the nightly recap of fielding highlights.
It’s going to take a lot of 2-hour, 20-minute games and behind-the-back flips to first base — maybe even his third no-hitter — before Buehrle becomes associated with the Marlins and not the White Sox, for whom he won 161 games over 12 seasons. He was one of the best things about every team he was on, as illustrated by the Sox’s 92-69 record in his starts the last five seasons. They were 315-335 behind everyone else.
So, yes, Chicago is going to miss him. How much will he miss Chicago?
“I’m going to miss it a lot,” Buehrle said. “Everybody knows that. But they did what they had to do, and it was time for me to move on. So here I am.”
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is thrilled that Buehrle has donned one of the newly designed uniforms that accompany their move into a new stadium and a change in the name of the franchise. He was added during a spending spree that also brought leadoff man Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell to a team that is returning its ace, Josh Johnson, from a shoulder scare that sidelined him during a 72-90 season a year ago.
“The hair on my arm was standing up when I came here a few days back,” Loria said during a visit to workouts this week. “It’s the same today. It’s fresh, it’s new. We’ve integrated some incredible players with the existing team. The younger players have a little more experience and I think they’re all ready to jell into something special. ... If we have some good health and good luck, we’re going to be a hell of a team to contend with.”
Buehrle hopes so. It will be interesting to see how Buehrle’s fastball-changeup combination plays in the National League, because this is the same No. 56 who has been one of the American League’s most reliable pitchers. He’s prepared to earn every penny of the four-year, $58 million deal that prompted him to move from his native Midwest to South Florida, if not quite South Beach.
Dade County restrictions against pit bulls caused Buehrle to purchase a home in southern Broward County. He’s commuting from there to the Marlins’ camp on a daily basis, as he declined to rent near the complex that is shared by the Marlins and Cardinals, the team he grew up following.
Buehrle fights traffic on I-95 and the Florida Turnpike for 90 minutes each way so he can spend nights with his wife, Jamie, and their two small children, 4-year-old Braden and 2-year-old Brooklyn. He says that if he needs a place to stay some night, he’ll crash at the condos of his former White Sox teammates. Scott Linebrink and Gary Glover are trying to earn jobs with the Cardinals and Marlins, respectively.
“It’s not a bad drive,” Buehrle said.
For Buehrle, congested highways are better than the rumors and possibilities he trafficked in as a highly pursued free agent in November and December.
After being written off as unaffordable by the White Sox, Buehrle joined C.J. Wilson and Japanese ace Yu Darvish among the best free-agent starters available. He was a major target for the Marlins, Nationals and Rangers and received calls from many other teams — and he hated every minute of it.
“I’m not going to do it again, I’ll say that,” Buehrle said.
Twice cut by his high school baseball team, Buehrle is used to being the guy who is just thankful for a chance. He’s not into the ego gratification that comes with being wined and dined, and doesn’t need special clauses in his contract — a private box at the stadium or use of the owner’s plane, for instance — to validate his worthiness.
“I had never been recruited,” Buehrle said. “When I came out of high school, I had a chance to pitch at Jeffco (Jefferson Community College in Missouri), and that was it. I got a few letters from schools while I was there, but the White Sox had drafted me so I never took a visit or anything like that. This was really the first time, and I didn’t like it. You hate to tell them no.”
At one point in November, national reporters linked Buehrle to interest from more than 10 teams, including the Cubs. It doesn’t appear the Cubs did more than express some possible interest in him, however, and that was the case for most of the teams that were mentioned.
In the end, a chance to stay connected to Ozzie Guillen, his manager the last eight years, gave the Marlins the edge over his other offers. Those were believed to have been from the Nationals, who would go on to trade for Gio Gonzalez, and the Rangers, who would spend heavily to lock up Darvish.
“All the speculation and reports were crazy,” Buehrle said. “At one point I heard about the Tigers. On TV they had a (graphic) that showed how I would fit into their rotation, behind (Justin) Verlander. The only problem was we never heard from the Tigers. It sort of became something to laugh about.”
Buehrle never heard the one rumor he would have welcomed — that the White Sox had found a way to keep him on the payroll.
“Obviously everybody knew I’d like to be back there, finish out my career,” he said. “But with the way we played last year, some of the moves they had made the last couple of years, it didn’t happen. I wouldn’t have been shocked if (the White Sox made a late offer), because you saw that with (Paul) Konerko and A.J. (Pierzynski) the year before ... but you also know that eventually everything comes to an end.”
Rather than counting on Buehrle to continue his streak of 11 consecutive seasons with 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings, White Sox general manager Ken Williams gave 26-year-old John Danks a $56 million contract after an 8-12 season and a 4.33 ERA.
“I think it came to a point where the question was, ‘Are you going to pay me or Danks?’ “ Buehrle said. “I think I would have done the same thing if I was the GM. You’ve got a left-hander who’s young, has a lot of experience and has outstanding, All-Star stuff. I’d do exactly what they did.”
Would he, really?
Buehrle is careful with what he says. He treats others well and maintains relationships with the same discipline he uses in keeping an eye on runners at first base. He’s the pro’s pro, and if the Marlins are going to force their way into the playoff conversation he’ll be a major part of their success. They were smart to sign him.
As long as he can continue to throw 75-mph changeups without letting hitters know it’s coming, his mid-80s fastball will work fine. That’s not easy to do, he admits, but that’s a part of his job that’s not changing. When the season starts, he’s packing a lunch and reporting to the job site. It will take a while, but you’ll get used to the clothes he’s wearing.