He's never told anybody about it before, not his wife or parents or teammates. And yet it's there every minute of every day during baseball season. But he needs to finally spill, so ... here goes.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to one day in the wacko life of Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, flakier than a truckload of Wheaties.
He wakes up. His first thought is, Who am I catching tonight? If it's righthander Jose Contreras, he must get out on the right side of the bed. The first foot to touch the ground must be his right. If he forgets, he must get back in bed and start over.
Everything he picks up, all day, must be with his right hand first. Toothbrush, spoon, wallet, doesn't mater. If he messes up, he's certain the Sox will give up a run in the first inning. As he walks from the parking lot to the clubhouse, he looks like a man crossing a river on turtles' backs. Each time he comes to a new surface--asphalt, curb or grass--he must lead with his right foot.
"I know, I know," he says. "It's weird."
Oh, it gets weirder.
Once he's at the stadium, he cannot walk anywhere near the trainer's room, even if it means taking the long way around the clubhouse. Always, his bat must stand barrel down, handle against the wall. Somebody innocently moved it the other day, and Pierzynski flipped.
"We move his stuff just to see him snap," backup catcher Chris Widger says. "I never knew why. He'd just go, 'Who the F moved my stuff?' He freaks."
Pierzynski's Father Flanagan handling of the Sox pitchers and his prime-time hitting have helped the Sox make their first World Series in 46 years, but the irony is, the Series is driving him nuttier than Mr. Peanut. Now, 10 times as many reporters are hanging around his As Good As It Gets life. "Sure, sure," he growled to the media horde by the cage last week, "it's your park. Don't mind us." How could he tell them they were making it very hard for him to plant his right foot on the dirt without touching the edge of the grass as he waited to take BP?
It's insane being this insane. "I say to myself, I'm not going to do this anymore," he confesses. "And then the next morning, I start right back again."
Has he been checked for obsessive-compulsive disorder? "No, I only do this for baseball."
His wife, Lisa, goes pale when she hears about his 16-hour-a-day routine. "I just always thought he had ADD," she says. "He always has to be doing 500 things at once. He watches three TVs at once, while playing video games, while text-messaging. Ritalin sounds very good right about now."
He is Rain Man in a mask. He leaps, hops and loops, navigating oddly around bases and plates and umpires. In his locker he must have three full bottles of water--not two, not four--unopened and warm, though he'll drink only one. And his shin guards must face up, left on the bottom, right on top.
He can't touch the bullpen gate on his way to warm up the starter. He must have all his weight on his right foot (for a righty) during the national anthem. He must be the last man out of the dugout when his team takes the field.
"I'm afraid people will read this and think I'm completely nuts," he worries.
Not at all, A.J. They thought you were completely nuts long before this.
They see the way you rip up your batting gloves and break your bat after making an out. The way you run to the mound in the middle of innings to celebrate outs. The way every nutso play in these playoffs seems to involve you, baseball's Bart Simpson.
But now they can view the voodoo that you do, too--your bizarre catcher's-box ballet of steps, sweeps and spits into your glove before every hitter. The way you never take your glove off once the inning starts. The way, when you're backing up first on ground balls, you must begin your run down the first base line with the correct foot.
And do you finally get a break when the game is over? No, you do not. The second the last out is made, even as you take your first step to the mound to congratulate tonight's pitcher, you must switch to the foot of tomorrow night's pitcher, lefty Mark Buehrle.
Is Anthony Perkins available for the movie?
"Oh, my God," says Sox third baseman Joe Crede. "This guy is borderline psycho!"
From across the clubhouse Pierzynski hears him and snaps. "That's bulls---!" he hollers.
And then adds, "I'm way more than borderline!"
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Pierzynski's first thought when he wakes up is, Who am I catching tonight? If it's righthander Jose Contreras, he must get out on the right side of the bed.