On Saturday at his old South Side stomping grounds, Mark Buehrle will stride to the pitcher’s mound and face the music one more time. What’ll he have in store for White Sox fans?
‘‘A complete disaster,’’ the retired left-hander warned. ‘‘I don’t think I’ve been so nervous in my life.’’
Ah, well. The Sox will go ahead and immortalize his No. 56 anyway.
Buehrle, 38, will become the 11th Sox star to have his number retired. He’ll join beloved former teammate Paul Konerko and six Hall of Famers — and make no mistake about how clearly the former 38th-round draft pick belongs among them.
‘‘Reliable, consistent, a winner, a good guy, unflappable,’’ longtime Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. ‘‘These are words that come to mind when I think of him.’’
Unflappable? Definitely not when it comes to public speaking. If you’re at the game or watching from home, you’d better focus extra hard the instant Buehrle’s lips start moving. Whatever he says to the crowd, it’ll be short. It’s anybody’s guess on the sweet.
‘‘Speech? What speech?’’ Buehrle said before the Sox’ series opener Friday against the Athletics.
He might not be prepared to channel Lou Gehrig, but Buehrle always was prepared to pitch. He did it nine times for the Sox as the starter on Opening Day. He did it to the tune of 161 victories for the Sox and 214 for his career. He demonstrated it by throwing at least 200 innings for 14 consecutive seasons (the last three with the Marlins and Blue Jays), joining icons Greg Maddux, Phil Niekro and Christy Mathewson as the only players to accomplish that.
Buehrle was a five-time All-Star (four with the Sox) and fielded his position so soundly that he won four consecutive Gold Gloves. And talk about preparation: He didn’t throw the ball as fast as the other great pitchers of his time, but he worked faster than anyone in the game. Every delivery was simply a means to the next one.
‘‘It was always, ‘Never take anything for granted,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘Go out there and get outs. If you’re not getting outs, you’re going to be in the minor leagues.’’
Buehrle insists he doesn’t miss playing the game. He has his family: wife Jamie, 8-year-old daughter Brooklyn and 9-year-old son Braden, who will sing the national anthem Saturday. He putters around his garage looking for things to fix. He’s getting ready for deer season.
Oh, and he’s playing beer-league softball. Imagine Buehrle as a cleanup-hitting first baseman if you can.
‘‘At the end of the day, I’m just a normal dude who was fortunate to have played professional baseball,’’ he said.
But a normal dude didn’t no-hit the Rangers in 2007 and deliver a perfect game against the Rays in 2009. A normal dude didn’t throw a complete-game victory against the Angels in Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series, perhaps the key to that whole glorious postseason. A normal dude didn’t enter the 14th inning of Game 3 of the World Series — after having started Game 2 — and retire Adam Everett with the tying runs on base and Astros fans in a frenzy.
‘‘I could sit here and tell you I was the hardest worker, that I was the first one here and the last one to leave,’’ Buehrle said. ‘‘I wasn’t. I just went and did what I had to do.’’
And he did it so well. On Saturday at his old South Side stomping grounds, Buehrle will get what’s coming to him.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.