Ryan Borucki pointed to the number on his back.
Fifty-six. Mark Buehrle would approve.
“Man, I loved Buehrle,” the Blue Jays lefty said.
Borucki was an 11-year-old in Mundelein when his beloved White Sox won the World Series. Nearly 13 years later, he can name every Sox player who threw a ball or swung a bat that October.
Needless to say, playing at Guaranteed Rate Field is a special thrill.
Friday was the rookie’s first time visiting the ballpark of his youth as a major leaguer. As he stood on the field and took it all in, his mind raced toward Sunday — when he’ll take the mound in search of his first big-league victory.
Borucki has pitched in five games, all starts, thus far and more than held his own, to which his 2.79 ERA attests. He held the mighty Astros to a pair of runs over six innings in his debut and was even better two starts later against the Yankees, allowing a single run in a seven-inning gem.
He hasn’t cracked the “W” column, though, and maybe that’s just as well. What a dream come true it would be to accomplish that here in front of a group of supporters — family, friends, former Mundelein High School teammates and coaches — that could number 50 or more.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” his father said.
Ray Borucki’s own baseball career ended 35 years ago. He’d made it as high as Class AAA in the Phillies organization — sharing an infield with Ryne Sandberg along the way — but by age 27 he’d dropped back down a level, been traded and seen the writing on the wall.
“I was a real good defender, but my bat was just OK,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the big leagues. I had a new daughter. I had my wife. So I went into the printing trade.
“That first year when it was time to go back to spring training, yeah, that was hard. But I got over it and never looked back. No regrets.”
No sleep, either. For most of the last three-plus decades, Ray Borucki, now 61, has worked the overnight shift — 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. He had chances through the years to change that, but a guy can hardly coach his kids’ teams when he’s manning a printing press.
From T-ball through high school, he was one of Ryan’s coaches. There was many a travel-ball tournament day when Ray would leave work in the morning, head to a ball field and coach multiple games until it was time to report back to work. No sleep? No kidding.
“If we had a morning game, there was no excuse for being tired,” Ryan said. “He had no patience for anybody being tired, because he was always tired.”
Borucki’s parents were with him in Buffalo, home to the Blue Jays’ Class AAA affiliate, when he received the news that he’d been called up. Ray and Jackie rushed from their hotel and found their son waiting for them outside the clubhouse.
“To give my mom and dad a hug at that moment, after getting called up, is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he said.
As Borucki pitches Sunday, there will be gray-haired men in the stands who’ve painted a picture for him through the years of his father as a teenage star. Ray won a state championship in 1975 as a player at Niles West. He even no-hit Springfield in the semifinals.
“They tell me he was like a god,” Borucki said.
His father never had it better than he does now. Not even close.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Ray said.
And print it.