Pro baseball travels take Brian Burres on an independent route
Barlow High grad doesn't give up on return to the majors while in the Atlantic League
LANCASTER, Pa. The pro baseball career of Brian Burres, a 1999 graduate of Sam Barlow High, has taken him to the most historic stadiums in North America and beyond.
His first major-league win came at venerable Fenway Park in Boston while with the Baltimore Orioles in 2007.
The last big-league victory for the left-handed pitcher came at Wrigley Field while with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011.
You are always going to remember your first win. There are a lot of great memories, the teammates you met along the way, says Burres, who saw his first MLB game in Seattle when he was about 11.
Now, 15 years after he was drafted out of Mt. Hood Community College by the San Francisco Giants, the Oregon City native is far removed from the bright lights of the most famous stadiums in Major League Baseball.
The parks he pitches in now have names such as Regency Stadium with his host team, Campbells Field in Camden, N.J., and Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pa.
Burres is not even with a major league organization, as he is playing in the independent Atlantic League with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. He lives with a host family, because leasing an apartment for a five-month season is next to impossible less than one hour from the nations capital.
The level of play is high, says Burres, 34, standing in the Southern Maryland clubhouse before he pitched in a game at Lancaster on Wednesday, Sept. 2. This is the top independent league. You can see that with the number of ex-major leaguers. You can always count on it to be good baseball in this league. The facilities are really nice. You are going to have a quality place to play.
Burres played in Taiwan in 2013 and then was 3-2 with an ERA of 1.64 with Southern Maryland in 2014 before he was picked up by the Colorado Rockies, who assigned him to Triple-A.
He became a free agent in November and has spent all of this season with Southern Maryland in the Atlantic League, where regular-season play ends Sept. 20. The Blue Crabs have qualified for the playoffs, as they won a first- half division title.
What are his goals for the rest of the year?
Honestly, it is to win. I think everyone on the team has the same goal, Burres says.
Burres allowed five runs (none earned) in six innings and struck out seven in a 5-4 loss to host Lancaster in the second game of the Sept. 2 doubleheader. That left Burres with a record of 7-9 and an ERA of 4.23 in 24 games, with 21 starts, this year for Southern Maryland.
His manager is Stan Cliburn, a former catcher who played in 54 games with the Angels in 1980. Cliburn first saw Burres pitch when he was in the Baltimore farm system with the Double-A Bowie (Md.) Baysox of the Eastern League.
We call him our leader in the clubhouse, says Cliburn, a long-time minor-league instructor with the Minnesota Twins. He brings a lot of leadership. He is first-class. He is a big leaguer all of the way. He just has that aura about him. He is the spokesman of the clubhouse. The younger players ask him for advice, and he is always positive.
Says Burres: I just try to keep it loose and have some fun.
THE LONG ROAD TO THE MAJORS
Burres pitched at Mt. Hood CC and was drafted by San Francisco in 2000 in the 31st round.
After playing in the minors with the Giants, he was picked up on waivers by the Orioles in January 2006. He made his big-league debut that year and pitched in 11 games out of the Baltimore bullpen.
He made a career-high 22 starts for the Orioles in 2008 and was 7-10, 6.04 in 31 appearances. During his time in Baltimore, he got to meet Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., who 20 years ago this month set the record for consecutive games played.
That is someone you want to shake hands with, Burres says.
Burres was picked up on waivers by Toronto for the 2009 season and pitched two games that year for the Blue Jays.
He was picked up by the Pirates after the season and appeared in 20 games, with 13 starts, for Pittsburgh in 2010.
His last MLB season, 2011, was with the Pirates, and he was 1-0, 3.86 in five games, including two starts.
He finished his major-league career with a record of 18-25, 5.75 in 106 games, with 56 starts.
Now he imparts some of his wisdom to younger pitchers with Southern Maryland.
Just know that you are going to have some (bad days). Keep working to get better, he says. It is not always going to be seven shutout innings. You are always going (to try) to get better.
PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR
Burres has lived in the past four years in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with his wife, Lacie, a graduate of Florida State University. She is from Florida, a former cheerleader for the NFL Miami Dolphins who now works in marketing.
I have to root for Florida State, Burres says with a smile.
They met when Burres was with the Orioles, whose spring training home used to be in Fort Lauderdale.
The off-seasons down there are a little easier to get outside and throw, he says.
Burres tries to get back to Oregon for a few days over Thanksgiving. His twin brother lives in Seattle, and his other two brothers are in Oregon.
He will sit down with his wife after this season and then start thinking about next year.
Players are signed by major-league organizations out of the Atlantic League on a regular basis. Tampa Bay acquired Jose Constanza from the York (Pa.) Revolution on Aug. 31. Two days earlier, Arizona signed Lucas Irvine from the Somerset (N.J.) Raiders.
One of his former teammates in Baltimore, Brandon Snyder, played in the Atlantic League earlier this year and was a teammate of Burres before Snyder was signed again by Baltimore and sent to Double-A Bowie.
There is always a shot, right? You never want to say never to anything, Burres says of getting back with a big-league organization.
EDITORS NOTE: David Driver is a baseball writer in Maryland who has contributed to Baseball America, Milb.com and Orioles Magazine. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com.
THE BURRES FILE
Birthplace: Oregon City
High school: Sam Barlow, Class of 1999
Current residence: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Team: Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League
Height/weight: 6-2, 190
Major league experience: Baltimore Orioles (2006-08), Toronto Blue Jays (2009) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2010-11)
Major league stats: 18-25, 5.75 ERA in 106 games, with 56 starts
Did you know?: Burres is a former teammate in Baltimore with pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, a graduate of Ashland High who is now with the Kansas City Royals. Burres has kept in touch with Guthrie. Eugene resident Madison Boer started on the mound for Lancaster in the first game of the doubleheader against Southern Maryland on Sept. 2. He is a former University of Oregon standout who was drafted in the second round in 2011 by the Minnesota Twins. He is 2-2, 4.80 in six starts for Lancaster. Other ex-big leaguers with Southern Maryland in early September included Justin Berg, Cody Eppley, Jon Leicester, Daryl Thompson, Bryant Nelson and Fred Lewis.