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Jake Burger watched as the Milwaukee Brewers took fielding practice before Friday’s game against the Chicago White Sox at American Family Field.
“It’s unbelievable,” Burger said. “A year ago, I definitely didn’t think I was going to be at this point. It’s been really fun getting to do it with a great clubhouse and a lot of great dudes and a lot of guys I started this with. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Sox called up Burger from Triple-A Charlotte ahead of a July 2 game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. He got two hits that evening and has provided depth at third base and designated hitter since.
He said his favorite part has been “the energy and the adrenaline rush you get out there every single time.”
“You always have nerves no matter where you’re going to play,” Burger said. “At this level, it’s way more and the adrenaline level is way more. That’s been the best part and also the hardest part. Your body is mentally drained by the time the game is over. You wake up and do it again.”
Burger’s story is well-documented. The Sox selected him with the No. 11 pick in the 2017 draft. He missed all of 2018 after suffering a ruptured left Achilles tendon in spring training, then missed all of 2019 because of a bruised left heel.
With the 2020 minor-league season canceled because of the pandemic, Burger played in a local league in Missouri before joining the Sox alternate site in Schaumburg.
He began 2021 with Charlotte, where he slashed .322/.368/.596 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs in 42 games. He’s slashing .270/.341/.486 with one home run and three RBIs in 14 games for the Sox.
“When I saw Jake Burger and I read about him, I was like: ‘Wow. That’s really some terrific obstacles and certainly can’t expect him to be very sharp,’ ” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “Then he comes to camp and you see him come up here and he’s playing like a productive big-leaguer, and then you are reminded what he went through for the last three years. It’s amazing.”
Burger, 25, had five multihit performances in his first 10 major-league starts, beginning with his debut when he went 2-for-4. His first hit, a double in the seventh, came when Tigers center fielder Daz Cameron lost track of the ball.
“That’s not how you expect your first hit to go, but it counts the same,” Burger said with a smile. “Once that dropped in, the nerves calmed down a little bit, you’re not pressing as much. And then I got back to what I do.
“That was a really special moment and my family was up there to celebrate that with me. It was really fun and it’s a night I will never forget.”
His first home run came July 17 against the Houston Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Floated around the bases, I couldn’t feel my legs,” Burger said. “The only thing I told myself was make sure you touch all four bases. It was so cool. We were up 9-0 and I hit it and the place was rocking. It felt so cool.”
Burger is hitless in his last 12 at-bats after pinch hitting and striking out to end Friday’s 7-1 loss. He knows the sport is a game of adjustments.
“Across the board, even at Triple A, you’ve got to be able to make adjustments,” he said. “Understand how they’re pitching you. Right now, I hit a couple of games where I struggled a little bit. It’s try not to do too much. Just being able to control my emotions, control my breathing, slowing down the game a little bit more. That’s the next step.”
He’s glad to be taking those steps with a strong support system.
“With (Andrew) Vaughn, (Gavin) Sheets, (Garrett) Crochet, having that young talent and being able to do it together kind of puts your mind at ease,” Burger said. “We’re all going through these trials and trying to learn the game at this level. Being able to bounce ideas off each other and have that constant communication has been huge.
“That doesn’t happen unless we have the veterans we have here: José Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal. All these guys have been awesome to us, kind of explaining their approach and certain situations. If we’re getting in the box against someone they’ve faced a lot, they tell us how they’ve pitched them. It’s been awesome to have that young core and also the veteran core that can help us along and take us under their wings.”