Buehrle, 31, finds himself in Arizona preparing for his 12th major league season—a place few expected him to be while he was in high school.
The road to reach what your dreams sometimes takes some unexpected twists and turns before you get to where you hope to be. There are those who are able to set forth on a path to get to where they want and have a seemingly smooth time getting there.
However, many times life can throw you curveballs that steer you off course and inhibit your ambitions.
Chicago White Sox All-Star pitcher Mark Buehrle did not have an easy path.
As a little leaguer growing up, Buehrle aspired to be a ballplayer.
“Just like any kid playing baseball, I loved everything about it,” Buehrle said in a phone call from White Sox camp in Arizona. “Waiting for school to end to get dressed into the uniform and get out on the field. I just really enjoyed the competition involved with it.”
Buehrle enjoyed a solid youth career, often playing on some of the top teams in the area and at times, traveling to other towns to play ball.
Upon entering high school at Francis Howell North, Buehrle faced some adversity. He tried out for the baseball team and was cut his freshman year. Another attempt during his sophomore year yielded the same result.
“After I got cut those first two years, I pretty much decided I was done,” Buehrle said. “I just felt like getting cut, not being able to make your freshmen and sophomore teams, then there was going to be no way I'd make the varsity team. I basically just decided that I was done, baseball wasn't going to be my thing and I should move on.”
Moving on proved to be easier said than done for Buehrle.
He continued to play summer ball each year after his freshman and sophomore years of high school. A growth spurt and some sound advice during his junior year helped the left-handed pitcher decide to give it one more shot.
“My parents talked me into trying out one more time during my junior year,” Buehrle said. “I told them that I'd give it one last try. If I got cut, then I'd be done. But if I made it, then I'd keep trying.”
With that decision, combined with hard work, Buehrle made the Howell North varsity squad for his junior and senior years. With two years in the pitching roatation for the Knights, Buehrle jumped on the opportunity to advance his amateur career beyond high school.
Jefferson Community College in Hillsboro, was the first school to recruit the left-hander. Buehrle signed his National Letter of Intent to commit to attend and accepted a full baseball scholarship from the school during his senior year.
After arriving to pitch for the nationally ranked Vikings baseball program, Buehrle instantly garnered interest from professional scouts. He had added strength to his frame and became a better pitcher. His fastball had some extra pop and his curve had stronger bite.
“I went down to JeffCo for my freshman year, and I remember the first tournament we had was down at Southwest Missouri State,” Buehrle said. “I threw a couple of innings down there and the next thing I knew, there were a few scouts handing me index cards asking me to fill out information on myself. At first, I thought someone was playing a joke on me. At the time, there was another lefty who pitched for us that threw harder than I did and was a sophomore. I had thought they mistook me for him.”
That left-handed pitcher was Matt Skyles, who pitched briefly in the Cleveland Indians organization and with the River City Rascals. Buehrle was, however, the prize the scouts were after. Word of mouth grew that there was lefty at Jefferson College with some pretty nasty stuff.
After his freshman year of college, Buehrle was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 38th round in 1998. He did not sign immediately and underwent a more rigorous offseason training program.
The training paid off.
He became the ace for the Vikings pitching staff and put up great numbers, increasing his stock as an amateur prospect for the upcoming draft. Before he could re-enter the 1999 draft and faced with the option of losing the rights to negotiate with Buehrle, the White Sox put an offer on the table. They signed Buehrle as part of the now defunct draft-and-follow process.
Just more than a year after signing, Buehrle made his major league debut on July 16, 2000. He has since authored two no-hitters, including a perfect game in 2009, started an All-Star game, collected two Rawlings Gold Gloves and won a World Series ring in 2005.
Not bad for a guy who 15 years ago contemplated giving the game up.
“My parents told me they didn't raise a quitter,” Buehrle said.
With those words, along with accolades of achievements, the humble pitcher who once roamed the halls of Howell North has fulfilled his childhood dream of playing baseball in the bigs. His story offers hope for those who face obstacles in achieving their dreams. And his words offer encouragement.
“Don't ever give up on your dream,” Buehrle said. “Keep trying. Listen to your coaches and elders, learn what they're teaching you. I wasn't the biggest kid, but I learned about what I needed to do, learned how to work out and just stayed focused on getting where I wanted to be.”
This interview was conducted by telephone on Saturday, March 5, 2011, while Mark Buehrle was in Arizona during Spring Training. Buehrle and graduated from Francis Howell North High School together in 1997.