His fastball is gaining octane. His manager just called him “a steal.” He plays a game every day. He’s got, to echo the bromide, “his whole life ahead of him.” The ballpark is his office.
Sure beats working for a living, no?
And then Michael Burrows, from that garden spot known as Bowling Green, Kentucky, said this Wednesday morning:
“The minor leagues are a tough lifestyle, man.”
Indeed. This is the story of the former Waterford High Whiz Kid who is capturing the fancy of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The same kid who spent eight hours on a bus the other day. The kid who makes $12,000 per year — below the poverty line, he says — and spends almost half of it on rent. The kid who admitted to eating two meals per day at the nearby Sheetz gas station just to save money where he can.
Make no mistake: Burrows isn’t complaining. He’s just a cautionary tale about the next time we may perhaps carp over ballplayer salaries. The road to the majors is more gravel and dirt than the velvety Pacific Coast Highway.
“Well, we don’t get paid much,” Burrows was saying, as he prepared to pitch for the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Pirates’ High-A affiliate. “You’re aware that you are away from home and making sacrifices to be away from them for something that may or may not ever happen. In my head, I’m like ‘damn straight I’m gonna make it happen and I’ll be there 10 years.’ But you make a lot of sacrifices and live a below-the-poverty-line lifestyle. I’m not going to waste my signing bonus right now just to live like a normal person. I don’t need steak dinners.”
The Pirates drafted Burrows in the 11th round of the 2018 draft. His manager in Greensboro, Kieran Mattison, told rumbunter.com, a web site that covers the organization, that Burrows is a “steal.” Then there’s his pitching coach Matt Ford:
“He has some of the best stuff in the organization without a doubt,” Ford told the website. “He throws hard, he can spin the heck out of a curveball and he has some (guts) out there. He’s going to come after you. … He can pitch up in the zone, down in the zone, in and out. He can land his curveball at almost any time. That’s a big-time, major-league pitch he has there with that breaking ball. The way his fastball and curveball play together is pretty damn elite.”
Burrows leads the Grasshoppers with 45 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. Opponents entered Wednesday hitting .203 against him. And his improvements run like a current all the way back to Waterford.
“I’m doing really well just because of every ounce of work I did through COVID let me come into this season without falling off track one bit,” Burrows said.
Burrows worked with former Waterford great Nolan Long, who is in the Dodgers organization. They used a gadget called a Rapsodo, which tracks pitches electronically and provides instant feedback.
“Nolan and I used it at least once a week,” Burrows said. “I could see what I could do to maximize each pitch. We bounced ideas off each other. My main goal was to keep up my throwing so I wouldn’t feel gassed.”
Burrows has exceeded 90 pitches three times recently. He said the offseason work strengthened his lower body, which has enhanced the whole package.
Burrows is also aware of the proceedings back home, namely how Connor Podeszwa was recently named Waterford’s second straight Gatorade Player of the Year. This came after his cousin Jared Burrows won the award in 2020, pitching the Lancers to a state title the previous year. Mike Burrows pitched Waterford to the 2017 championship.
“I’m really happy for both of them,” Mike Burrows said. “Jared is my cousin and Connor and I are close friends. I have a lot of respect for Connor’s dad (Chris, a UConn baseball assistant). The Gatorade thing is a great honor for all of them.”
And now for Mike, well, maybe not too much longer eating gas station food.
“Right now, it’s about staying on course,” he said. “As long as I stay solid, I’ll be good. What they really want to see is a pitcher that helps the team win.”
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro