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Pierzynski hits the gym to maintain his durability

It took a lunch meeting with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and a last-minute call for A.J. Pierzynski to stay with the White Sox instead of going to the Dodgers and forcing the Sox to turn to Miguel Olivo.

Now one of baseball's most durable catchers seems ready for a challenge most receivers tend to avoid in their mid-30s.

"I know I have to do more," Pierzynski, 34, said of his offseason conditioning program. "I know I have to do something every day to stay ready. With my kids being in school, it gives me a little more free time. When they were younger, it was hard because I always had them.

"I've been fortunate to make a little money and have an opportunity to have a gym (in Orlando, Fla.) close enough to where I can get after it every day and get ready for Feb. 17."

When Pierzynski reports to spring training, he will continue the preparation that has made him the only Sox catcher since 1955 to catch at least 1,000 innings in six consecutive seasons. He and the Royals' Jason Kendall, 36, who is recovering from right rotator cuff surgery, are the only active players to have caught 1,000 innings in nine consecutive seasons.

"Any time you get at that age, you have to take care of yourself," said Ron Karkovice, who caught 224 games for the Sox in 1995 and '96 but was hindered by knee injuries and was out of baseball in 1998 at 34.

"You have to watch what you eat. You really have to pay attention to everything you do. A.J. has stayed healthy. That comes first."

The 1,000-inning streak is a source of pride to Pierzynski, who led American League catchers with 123 games started last season.

"(Manager Ozzie Guillen) will tell you I annoy him when I'm sitting on the bench," Pierzynski said.

Two winters ago, Pierzynski shed 20 pounds by sustaining a healthy diet. But he was batting only .231 last season before hitting .364 from Aug. 12 to the end of the season to raise his overall average to .270.

That was the first of three reprieves for Pierzynski. Reinsdorf told him just before the winter meetings in December in Orlando to call the Sox before accepting an offer from another team.

A few days later, as Pierzynski was waiting for Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to approve language in a contract proposal, Sox assistant General Manager Rick Hahn and agent Steve Hilliard reached agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal before Pierzynski could tell the Dodgers he would accept their offer.

That allowed the Sox to turn from Olivo, who had them on his short list. He ended up with a two-year, $7 million contract with the Mariners less than a week after Pierzynski returned to the Sox.

"It all came together in a 15-minute span," Pierzynski said. "I was pretty much resigned to the fact I wasn't coming back.

"This was the place I wanted to be. It was just a weird negotiating progress."

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