Ever since the end of the regular season I knew this day would come, yet I hoped deep down that somehow it never would. Wednesday the inevitable happened when White Sox great Mark Buehrle signed a 4 year, 58 million dollar contract to pitch for his former manager, Ozzie Guillen and the Miami Marlins.
Once again, I have been around to witness the development of a baseball superstar from the very beginning only to sadly watch him depart before I’m ready to see him leave. That’s baseball though, and business is, well, business. However, Mark was special. His departure inspired me to take a look back at his career as seen through my lens. Highlights? There were many. Laughs? I’ve lost count. Moments that can’t be shared here? There are definitely a few of those too.
Let’s just say that he had a certain salute reserved for me whenever he was in front of my camera. I have quite the collection and hope to add to it the first time the Marlins make their way to Wrigley Field next season.
Some things may end, but they never change…
Mark knows how to have fun, and it showed both on and off the field. That’s where the laughs came from. Whether it was filming a TV commercial or shooting a program cover, it was all about fun for him, and in turn that made it fun for everyone else.
Mark made his debut in 2000 on a White Sox club that made the postseason for the first time in 7 years, albeit only to have the Mariners spoil the party in quick fashion. He was part of “The Kids Can Play” group that joined the club between 1999 and 2001. Check out the photo below which featured the young talent being developed within the White Sox farm system. Only one of those guys really made it. Burls.
Five years after his debut I had the ride of a lifetime as the White Sox won the 2005 World Series. 11-1 in the posteason, the White Sox were powered by a dominating pitching staff led by Mark. That was only the beginning.
One of the most exciting moments in my career was covering Mark’s perfect game versus the Tampa Bay Rays on July 23, 2009. As nervous as I was preparing for the “image” of the final pitch, I wondered just how in the hell he could throw strikes! How was it that he wasn‘t nervous? Cool and calm under pressure. That was what Mark Buehrle was. Get the ball, throw the ball, repeat. No time for nervousness. He pitched so fast during the ninth inning I remember feeling like I had no time to focus between pitches. Mark worked so damn fast I could barely keep up. Fortunately I did, and the result was my first Sports Illustrated cover.
As many know, Mark threw two no-hitters while pitching for the White Sox, but unfortunately I wasn’t there for the first one. Let me explain. I left the ballgame that night in the third inning to relieve my baby sitter, who was working overtime. It was a cold, misty April night, pretty lousy actually. And who would ever predict that there will be a no-hitter thrown this night? I mean, it hadn’t been since Joel Horlen twirled a no-no at old Comiskey Park back in 1967 that a White Sox pitcher threw a no-hitter at home. Ha! Was I in for a surprise. I arrived home and turned the game on as I always do (I was listening to music on the ride home) and noted that the game was in the bottom of the 7th, and the Sox were shutting out the Rangers. Great! Then I saw the line score. Crap! I knew I had no time to turn around and get back to the ballpark with Mark pitching, so I did the same thing I did back in 1967… I watched a White Sox pitcher throw a no-hitter live on television.
I felt sick. Shortly after the game I received a phone call from our PR Department (who knew I wasn’t there) requesting that Mark was looking for me to take some pictures of him with his family… “Oh, you aren’t here?” was their response. Nice. Busting my chops. A few days later pitching coach Don Cooper asked me for photos from Mark’s masterpiece for his home, fully aware I wasn’t there. Messin’ with Ves. I thought I’d ever live this one down.
Flash forward to 2009. After Mark’s first no-hitter, the rules changed (obviously) regarding when I leave the ballpark. Pretty simple, actually. No leaving the yard until the opposition gets a hit. Makes sense. Too bad I had to learn the hard way. July 23, 2009 I was given a second chance. This time, I didn’t watch it on TV!
I made sure to kid Mark after the game by letting him know I only shoot perfect games, not no-hitters. I then made up a special print of the final pitch for Mark, signed by me. My inscription? “Mark, Thanks for the second chance”. The 8000 pound gorilla finally flew off my back!
I’m going to miss our everyday interactions, since Mark always caught the ceremonial first pitche(s) (except on days when he pitched of course). It didn’t matter if it was a kid from Tinley Park or Kid Rock. Every game. Who will take over next season? I suspect Mark’s shadow, John Danks will step in. Two peas in a pod. John would be a natural to step in and fill Mark’s void.
Appropriately, during Mark’s final appearance in a White Sox uniform last September it seemed as though the skies were crying when a steady rain began to fall. I felt a sense of sadness in the air.
So long, Mark! What a ride you gave us all. 2005’s magic may never have been without you. I can’t thank you enough for the memories. Seriously. Quit laughing…!
So now that you’re in the National League it’s time to set a new goal. Sure, you’ve won a World Series ring while earning a win and a save, hit a home run, thrown a no-hitter and perfect game while also winning three Gold Gloves so what else is there?
Time to hit for the cycle my friend. Something tells me you will.
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