Sunday, September 18, 2016

Farewell to AJ

When veteran catcher AJ Pierzynski signed with the Braves I had no strong feelings one way or another. Not usually a fan of career American Leaguers. Some thought he was a jerk, but others in the know said he was great when he was on your side. I figured he would back up and groom rookie sensation Christian Bethancourt. But when the rookie slumped, AJ stepped in and become one of the team’s best hitters.   

While AJ was always a fierce competitor, he will be remembered as a pro’s pro, focused first more on others: team and family in particular. After the fine 2015 season AJ considered retiring, wanting to go out on top rather than weakly limping away. The Braves convinced him to return in 2016. AJ was able to bring his son along many times, an interesting contrast to Adam LaRoche’s experience on AJ’s old team, the White Sox. AJ did not start the season strong, and the bulk of the playing time went to newcomers Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. But AJ did not complain.

AJ went out on his own terms: quietly, with the focus on the team. No farewell tour. I’m not sure of the details, but after several weeks with little playing time, with the winning run on base AJ singled in the 10th inning of last Saturday night’s game against the Mets. Wanting the win, AJ had hoped the hit would drive in Dansby, but the rookie was held at third base. AJ was pulled for a pinch runner, pitcher Matt Wisler. Later AJ would joke that he could beat the much younger Wisler in a race (but not Bartolo Colon - below).

When AJ returned to the dugout he may have announced his retirement. He was greeted with hugs and high fives. After the walk off win cigars were passed out in the clubhouse, but when the media caught wind of the possible retirement story AJ went mum, wanting the focus to be on the win. He avoided questions on the topic on live TV, and the story was put off until the next day.

Seemed like a good reason to salute AJ with a few notable photos.
Two Bit the Drill had never worn the Home Depot Took Race, until his pal AJ helped out. 
Evidently it wasn't the first time AJ interrupted a mascot race.
Never knew AJ had his own style of cleats.

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