The End of an Era-Mark Buehrle Departs the Southside

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.

Mark celebrates the White Sox division clincher in Detroit in 2005, the first of four champagne parties we enjoyed together that fall!

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.

I think you get the idea...

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 Buehrle delivers a pitch at Comiskey Park as a rookie during the 2000 season.

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.

White Sox farm system players of the future, circa 2001. Left to right: Jon Rauch, Joe Borchard, Matt Ginter, Mark Buehrle, Josh Fogg, David West, Dan Wright, Lorenzo Barcelo and Rocky Biddle

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.

White Sox starting pitchers (L-R) Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia celebrate with pitching coach Don Cooper after the four each hurled complete game wins against the Angels to lead the White Sox to the 2005 World Series, the first time that feat had occurred since the 1950's.

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.

The two greatest left handed pitchers in White Sox history, Mark Buehrle and Billy Pierce pose for a photo during "1959 reunion weekend" at U.S. Cellular Field in 2005.

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.

CHICAGO - JULY 23: Mark Buehrle #56 of the Chicago White Sox throws the final pitch of the game to Jason Bartlett to record the 18th perfect game in major league history against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 23, 2009 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Rays 5-0.

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!

Mark and I posed for a photo the day he ended up signing his four year contract extension back in 2007. I was thrilled to have four more years of Mark messing with my world.

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!

On and off the field, Mark was fun to be around!

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.

I felt Mother Nature became a bit emotional during Mark's last start in a White Sox uniform September 27, 2011 against the Blue Jays.

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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