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Buehrle's big Christmas comes early

Buehrle's big Christmas comes early

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CHICAGO -- When Mark Buehrle looks under the family Christmas tree in Missouri about one month from now, the only gift he might find from his wife, Jamie, is a card featuring touching holiday sentiments.

"She said, 'Don't expect anything for Christmas,'" said Buehrle with a laugh during a Tuesday evening phone interview. "We are building a new house, so that's really a gift for both of us."

Actually, Jamie Buehrle already took care of her husband's Christmas present in late September. She probably took care of his next two Christmases and next two birthdays, for that matter.

And to make things that much sweeter, Mark has a televised chronicle of how this special gift was created, assembled and eventually home delivered to watch at his convenience.

Shortly after Mark's historic perfect game performance against Tampa Bay on July 23 at U.S. Cellular Field, Jamie contacted the guys from Orange County Choppers to commission something special for her husband. If the company's name sounds familiar, it's because this group has found fame and fortune through their American Chopper show on cable's TLC.

At the meeting among Jamie, Paul Teutul Sr. and his work crew, including Jason Pohl, a self-proclaimed White Sox fanatic, she described in broad strokes what Mark's unique chopper should feature.

"I want it to be one of those things where every time you look at it, you find something else that's different," said Jamie, a motorcycle aficionado since Mark has known her, explaining her vision during the broadcast of the show last Thursday night. "Something nobody else has out there.

"It's hard to buy something for someone that can get whatever he wants, so I'm thinking this is something he would never do for himself, and he'll love it. I want to get Mark something that he would never expect in a million years."

Mission accomplished, and then some.

Every last bit of Buehrle's four-year, $56 million salary that he's currently under contract for with the White Sox couldn't have purchased a bigger surprise or a more creative piece of machinery. The chopper has three baseballs on each side, chromed and bolted on to the wheel.

Mark Buehrle's name is featured on the seat, done with a bit of stitching to resemble a baseball glove, while Jamie's name and the names of their son, Braden, and daughter, Brooklyn, also are present. The White Sox emblem is featured on the back of this chopper done up in black, the back license plate spot reads '7-23-09,' and the gas cap even has a deer head on it.

"Everything I like," Buehrle said.

The chopper's side panel is certainly memorable. It shows off the word "Perfect," flashing in yellow LEDs, and the actual perfect linescore from July 23, flashing in white LEDs. During the times Buehrle has driven his prize, he doesn't employ those flashing lights. It's not the low-key All-Star's style to draw attention to himself.

Here's the funny part, though, about Jamie having this rather large present sprung on her husband. It wasn't as if she could go down to the local Macy's and pay extra to have it gift-wrapped.

Instead, the OCC crew brought it to the Buehrles' Chicago residence on Sept. 24, the last home off-day of the regular season. And Buehrle almost kicked out the gift-wielding guys from his property before they could announce their presence.

Apparently, Jamie's surprise plan worked better than she could have imagined. She invited family, friends, neighbors and White Sox teammates for a barbeque at their house on that particular Thursday, but revealed the chopper's arrival to provide a little extra incentive for as many people as possible to attend.

So Mark was the only one left in the dark. When Teutul drove up on the chopper, Mark's first thought wasn't, "I think I'm getting a custom-made OCC chopper, and this event is being taped for rebroadcast." It was more along the lines of, "Who is invading my family's privacy?" A look of bubbling anger is evident on Mark's face when he first walked into the frame near the end of Thursday's show.

"This is what happened," Mark explained. "I can't think of the guy's name, but it was a guy who worked with the White Sox, one of the tradesmen at U.S. Cellular. He drove a bike, a louder bike, and had the same sort of gray hair as Paul Sr. So, I saw what I thought was him and thought, 'What is he doing here on my off-day and how does he know where I live?'

"Then I saw the TV cameras and the booms with microphones on it and I thought, 'He brought Comcast with him?' Then, I was [upset]. I'm chilling with my family and friends and this guy brings Comcast?

"At that point, I'm thinking, 'I'm going to go off on someone,'" said Buehrle, laughing at the whole situation in hindsight. "As I got closer, I could see there was more going on. I first thought it was something bad, and it turned out to be something really good."

So good, according to Buehrle, that it marked the biggest surprise of his life other than the time he found out they were pregnant with their first child. Jamie was equally satisfied with how her concept turned into reality.

"I had high expectations, but they definitely exceeded all of them," she said on the show. "It was phenomenal, incredible. I loved it."

As for the American Chopper cast, Pohl clearly got the biggest charge out of constructing what he termed as the "Mark Buehrle bike." His first words to Buehrle as Paul Sr. drove up were, "Dude, you got a chopper."

Throughout the show, though, Pohl was a bit more eloquent about his White Sox love from when he was a young fan, one who now follows the team consistently through MLB.TV. Buehrle said the whole crew stayed for a few hours at the barbeque, and Pohl even went with his family to a home game that weekend and sat in Buehrle's suite.

"Other fans will be totally psyched when they see this bike," Jason said. "As a White Sox fan, this is a huge deal for me."

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen probably stand as the only people who might not be thrilled concerning Buehrle's new transportation, though Buehrle hasn't heard from any of them about keeping his feet on the ground. For Buehrle, the chopper was a fitting gift and as surprising to him as the 27 up, 27 down he had against the Rays.

"[Jamie] asked me if I had any clue or if I knew something," Buehrle said. "I was completely surprised. It's definitely a gift, every guy I won't say dreams of getting, but when you are surprised with something like that, it really becomes something special."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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