PITTSBURGH -- A.J. Burnett celebrated the Fourth of July by wearing patriotic red, white and blue sneakers during batting practice. They matched well with the uniform he wore as he sat in the visitor's dugout at PNC Park for the first time since leaving the Pirates.
Burnett was an integral part of the Pirates' franchise turnaround during his two years in the Steel City, and he aided the Bucs to their first playoff appearance in 21 years just nine months ago.
The 37-year-old righty signed a one-year, $16 millon contract with Philadelphia in February, but his return to Pittsburgh -- albeit in visiting colors -- gave Burnett a chance to reflect on his two seasons with the Pirates.
"Coming here and coming to a place where there was a young crew and being one of the older guys, I still give all my thanks to the guys in that locker room and what they thought of me from day one, and even today," said the 16-year Major League veteran. "We stay in touch. It's a special group."
Burnett noted he had a chance to catch up with a few teammates and Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage on Friday morning. Of sitting in the opposing dugout, Burnett said "it's right, but it's wrong," and memories of yesteryear may flood back even more when he takes the mound in the series finale Sunday against close friend and mentee, Jeff Locke.
Burnett has 388 starts for five different teams to his name, but he had a career renaissance with the Pirates. In two seasons with Pittsburgh, Burnett was 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA and 389 strikeouts in 393 1/3 innings. The 3.30 ERA he posted in 2013 matched his best mark of any season during his lengthy Major League career.
"With me, it's all in between the lines," Burnett said. "I think once this place, this city, realized what I gave every time I went out there in between the lines, no matter what, I think that's all they cared about."
What kind of reaction does Burnett expect when he trots between those lines on Sunday?
"Mixed," Burnett said.
"The city took me in," he added, "and they got a right to boo. And they got a right to cheer, too."
Burnett (5-7, 3.92 ERA) heading into the weekend was not enjoying the kind of team success he had last season, as the Phillies entered Pittsburgh 11 games below .500 and 10 games back in the National League East. If the Phillies do sell at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Burnett could be changing uniforms yet again. But he said that was not on his mind.
"I don't have any thoughts on that right now," Burnett said. "That's where my mind is: I can't predict the future. I don't hope for the future, I'm day by day; this is my team."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.