A.J. and Jay cut from same cloth

As indispensable leaders, Sox catcher and Bears quarterback have lot in common

On a football field in Orlando back in the winter of 2006, A.J. Pierzynski met his match as a menace.

Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler was preparing for the NFL draft at a camp near Disney World run by fitness guru Tom Shaw, who trained Pierzynski. When Cutler and other aspiring quarterbacks such as Tarvaris Jackson would work on their passing, Pierzynski volunteered to run routes.

Imagining the combustible chemistry of that quarterback-receiver combination, I asked the White Sox catcher if Cutler ever got in his face in the good-natured way Chicago has come to appreciate.

"Of course he did,'' Pierzynski said, smiling. "That was Jay. I'd tell him he needed to throw it harder and the next pass would come 100 miles per hour. It was fun.''

Some would call it fate.

Six years later, Pierzynski and Cutler might be the only people in the city who truly understand what the other one goes through every day as polarizing leaders of their respective first-place teams, the White Sox and the Bears. Without the unique edge Pierzynski and Cutler exhibit regularly, would either team have such a sharp playoff focus this September?

"I've always respected Jay and wished nothing but the best for him,'' Pierzynski said before Tuesday night 5-3 loss to the Tigers. "I know he has done some things people want to question too but what I know of Jay, he always has his team's best interests in mind. He has done some good things. That's the way he goes about it.''

Sound like anybody else in town, A.J.?

"Yeah, I guess I could see that,'' Pierzynski said of similarities to Cutler.

They are as valuable to their teams as they can be voluble. They share what is described best as charming irritability, complemented by an obvious intellect that can make many of their words and actions seem calculated. They occasionally behave in a manner that makes them hard to live with, even for teammates, yet consistently produce in a way that makes them impossible to live without.

"Everybody knows about A.J., but what people don't realize is he's a really smart human being,'' Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said. "He knows what he's doing and there's a reason for most of the stuff that he does so we support him. No matter what he does or who he irks, it's always in the name of winning.''

Beckham sounded so much like Bears players defending Cutler that he could have been sitting at Halas Hall instead of at The Cell.

On Tuesday when I heard WSCR-AM host Matt Spiegel call Cutler, "our beloved likable jerk,'' I nodded because it fit as well as a No. 6 jersey. Those words popped into my head later in the Sox clubhouse talking to Pierzynski, Chicago's most punchable face before Cutler became a Bear in 2009.

Reputation says Pierzynski and Cutler are guys you are less likely to want to have a beer with than throw a drink in their faces. But, as long as they play in Chicago, their money is no good here. Fans embrace them, prickliness and all.

"I feel lucky people in Chicago have accepted and welcomed me and I think Jay's the same way,'' Pierzynski said. "I know a lot of people who already love Jay just because of what he has done and how he has gone about it. You can't control what people think about you or say about you. You only can control what you do and do the best for your team on every single day.''

Every day this week reinforced just how much Pierzynski and Cutler have in common.

After Sunday's victory when Cutler essentially told Bears fans paying exorbitant ticket prices when they could cheer at Soldier Field — he was right, by the way — Pierzynski instigated the Tigers in his inimitable way. After a solo home run Monday that followed Alex Rios' blast, Pierzynski raised the Tigers' ire by saying something as he rounded first base.

"Honestly, I don't have time to pay attention to that crap,'' Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello responded to MLB.com.

"I just think maybe he was pumped up or something,'' Tigers catcher Gerald Laird added.

When I asked Pierzynski about the hubbub, he professed not to know he upset a soul.

"Just add it to the list, I guess,'' Pierzynski said. "It gets old. I see other people do stuff all the time. I was just excited. There was a song playing on the (public-address system). I was just singing the song.''

Without question Pierzynski steps to the music he hears, however measured or far away. Keeping him company is an NFL quarterback he considers a friend skipping to the same beat.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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