Throughout his long Major League career, A.J. Pierzynski has prided himself as an intense competitor who is willing to do anything if it means he'll win a ballgame. His win-at-all-costs approach has maddened opponents and occasionally left his team's medical staff scrambling.
"He just cold cocks people," said a member of the Giants' training staff from when Pierzynski played in San Francisco in 2004. "Remember those card games people used to hate him for playing? They hated him for it because if he lost he'd pour vinegar in your contact solution."
But as the 38-year old Pierzynski nears the end of his career, he is not interested in altering his approach.
"I'll do whatever it takes to help my team win. If you need me to fight the guy, I'll fight the guy," he said.
"No, you don't need to do that," responded another of Atlanta's newcomers Jason Grilli, at the team's public declaration of the signings.
"Let me rephrase that," said Pierzynski. "I absolutely WILL punch a guy. Because I want to. Let's be honest: dude's got it coming to him anyway."
Pierzynski's personality could actually be a dangerous addition to a relatively young Atlanta clubhouse, with players that could end up delivering sucker punches to unsuspecting opponents. "I'll do whatever it takes because I want to win the game," Pierzynski continued. "For three hours, I don't care who is pitching. Mark Buerhle is one of my good friends, But when we're facing him, I want to kill him. Literally, I want to kill him. Like with a trident or something, get creative with my elbow. Afterwards we can go out for a beer, but that [redacted] better be buying if he knows what's good for him."
The two-time All-Star totaled 44 cold cocks from 2012-2013. Pierzynski agreed to join the Braves with the understanding that they'd stay "they hell out of [Pierzynski's] way" as he mentors Christian Bethancourt, the talented prospect who is set to become Atlanta's primary catcher this year.
"I'm 38 years old and physically, I can still throw one hell of a left hook," Pierzynski said. "I have no limitations as far as how long I'll lie in wait to take my revenge. But at a certain point in time, you also want to help other people, and they have a kid here that hasn't even snuck in a roundhouse kick when nobody's looking. I want to help him get the most out of that talent along with the pitching staff and the other people in the organization and that means we need to teach this kid how to fight, even if nobody really did anything to provoke it."
Coming off of a down year in Boston, where his personality rubbed some of the Red Sox veterans the wrong way, Pierzynski feels like he has something to prove.
"We didn't get it done collectively," he says. "See? Honesty. I don't pull punches. I dish 'em out. People can point their fingers, like they did from the first day I was there, that it was all my fault or whatever. That's fine. I will take the blame. But [Clay] Buchholz had it coming, and he knows it. Dude looks like he just walked outta the Ozarks. I kept telling him 'Dude, that's worth a sock in your little chicken neck.' But the people I was around and that I trusted and talked to there, we had a lot of conversations about a lot of different things. At no point did the people that I talked to say, 'It was all your fault' or whatever. But they're all jerks anyway, so who knows what to believe I guess."
Now, Pierzynski is just looking forward to assuming the same role with the Braves.
"I just look forward to meeting new guys, see if any of them need to be straightened out, if you know what I mean. Every team you go to has a different clubhouse and a different structure and a different atmosphere, but I don't give a [redacted], I'll give anyone who asks for it thump right in the nose. As long as guys understand that and go about it, then everything else should be fine, probably."