Sean Burroughs shouldn’t be defined as simply the answer to a Little League trivia question.
It just so happened his name came up during the annual Williamsport, Pa., tournament last week, after 13-year-old Grant Holman of Chula Vista threw a no-hitter in his team’s opening game of the Little League World Series against Grosse Point, Mich.
ESPN’s research department was quick to tweet out: The last California pitcher to record such a feat happened to be “future major leaguer” Burroughs.
“No, I missed that,” Burroughs admitted with a chuckle the other day, sitting in the clubhouse of the Dodgers’ Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts, waiting out a rain delay that eventually postponed his team’s game against the visiting Jacksonville Suns.
This is one of those moments in time when memories mesh, actions are reassessed, deep breaths are taken, and smiles hopefully emerge.
Now is supposed to be a time to celebrate – it’s been 20 years since Burroughs and his pals from Stearns Park made history at the Little League World Series, clinching their second straight championship as the U.S. West Regional representatives from Long Beach.
This was the only time they really got to jump around on the field and bask in the spotlight after a 3-2 triumph over Panama, which came after Jeremy Hess’ bases-loaded, game-winning blast. The previous title in 1992 was unceremoniously handed over to Long Beach after it was determined that their opponent from the Philippines used over-aged players and were thus stripped of the crown.
Burroughs came out of it as the precocious, TV-friendly, oversized hero. He was the son of the former American League MVP Jeff Burroughs, who helped coach the team with manager Larry Lewis, all neighbors and friends who couldn’t believe they’d not only made it this far a second time, but were trying to figure out how to deal with their new-found fame.
And for the trivia buffs: Burroughs actually pitched back-to-back no-hitters during that ’93 World Series tournament. He had three no-hitters in a row, going back to the West Regional final. He put together a 13-0 record on the mound during the entire playoff run, hit 17 homers and batted nearly .700.
All while carrying around his favorite troll doll for good luck.
“Oh yeah, definitely a fun time, hanging out with my buddies, just pure baseball,” the soon-to-be 33 year-old Burroughs recalled. “Back when you didn’t care about the stats, you went to the beach to bake in the sun in the morning, came home for lunch, then hit the field to see if we could score more runs than the other team. And we usually did.”
One day he’s playing catch with David Letterman on his “Late Night” show in New York, quipping that he’d like to grow up to be a gynecologist. He’s literally been handed a key to the city of Long Beach.
Twenty years later, he’s waiting out a rain delay, about as far from the big-league stage he once played upon as possible, in a locker room with players 10 years younger, some of them stamped as “can’t miss” prospects.
Just like he once was.
Burroughs’ baseball path seemed to be framed pretty nicely 20 years ago.
After a stellar career at Long Beach Wilson High, he was the ninth overall pick in the 1998 draft by the San Diego Padres, a favorite of general manager Kevin Towers. Burroughs passed on a USC scholarship offer to sign.
Two years later, he emerges as the MVP of the All Star Future’s Game and a member of the U.S. gold-medal-winning Olympic baseball team in Australia.
His first three season for the Padres, between the ages of 21-23, Burroughs hit .271, .286 and .298, not showing much of the power numbers, but driving in runs.
He tried harder to hit home runs, getting away from his game. Then injuries happened. A slide into second base in a game at Dodger Stadium didn’t feel right. It turned out that Burroughs broke a blood capsule in the back of his leg. Aggressive treatment was necessary to treat the circulation problem. He didn’t react well to it, his numbers slipped, and the Padres traded him to Tampa Bay in 2006.
The Rays released him that summer. Seattle gave him a shot, but released him halfway through the ’07 season.
A broken Burroughs spend the next three seasons detached from the game, admitting he couldn’t focus on priorities. Some may compare his spiral to what Josh Hamilton went though. Burroughs has described his experience as what Nicholas Cage’s character had in “Leaving Las Vegas” – existing on Slurpees and In-N-Out burgers, trying all kinds of drugs, bloating up to more than 260 pounds and not recognizing himself in the mirror any longer.
“I think I was just mentally and physically exhausted and I ventured out, not sure why,” Burroughs said. “It’s just part of growing up, worrying about producing, living up to expectations.
“You’re in your 20s, you think you’re indestructible and nothing bad will happen to you – and that’s the farthest thing from the truth, whether you’re an athlete, a politician, a doctor or a lawyer.
“I learned the hard way. I still loved the game. I just had to get my head straight.”
After his family finally helped him pull his life together, Burroughs gave baseball another shot. He started working out with Chase Utley, a former Long Beach Little League pal.
Arizona signed him, and Burroughs ended up helping the Diamondbacks toward a playoff spot in 2011. After his release, Minnesota gave him a roster spot for 2012.
It was the Dodgers who most recently signed him last April. After a month in extended spring training, Burroughs wasn’t given any guarantees when he was dispatched to Chattanooga.
Burroughs’ outlook with the Lookouts, in all honesty, is cloudy at best.
The reality is that his lifetime big-league stats could end as they are now — 528 games in seven seasons, a .278 average with 12 homers and 143 RBIs.
The Dodgers’ talent-rich farm team where Yasiel Puig began this season has been anchoring the bottom of the Southern League’s North division, eliminated long ago from the playoffs that will start next week.
That’s the last bit of business left in the year where it’s more likely that current prospects such as outfielder Joc Pederson and pitcher Zack Lee have a far better chance of going up to the big leagues at this moment than Burroughs does of completing another improbable comeback.
Burroughs’ Twitter account states he’s “living the dream by hotel rooms and bus rides.”
That hardly makes sense. But it’s what he hangs onto.
Hampered by some hamstring and shoulder injuries, Burroughs has put up an unremarkable .219 batting average, without a home run, having played in less than half the team’s games at third base.
“The big leagues were all about charter flights and filet mignon, and now it’s 12-hour bus rides leaving a 1 a.m. after a game getting in at noon the next day, but I feel lucky to be playing in with an organization like the Dodgers,” said Burroughs.
“It just comes down to still loving baseball, the camaraderie with the teammates, trying new things, making adjustments. How can that not still be a thrill?”
The chances that the Dodgers will have a spot for him beyond September depend on many variables.
“He’s been a good citizen, works his tail off without complaining, great with the kids on that team, and a good fit in Chattanooga,” said DeJon Watson, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager, player development. “He’s just his body has been breaking down a bit on the back end of the season. He’s still giving us everything he has.”
Rich Monzingo, the Lookouts’ president and general manager, calls Burroughs “a breath of fresh air . . . He’s done a really good job from where I sit, a guy who’s been there and don it and if someone has a question, he can set ‘em straight. That’s valuable at this level. If the Dodgers want him back here (next season), we’d love to have him.”
Burroughs understands his value to the team based on his experiences.
“I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum, for sure, and I think a lot of the people here who maybe didn’t know me well at first have got closer, and made this a positive experience,” he said. “This is a tough game as it is. You can be going great sometimes and feel you’ve got it all together, and two days later, it feels like the first day of spring training.
“It’s about finding a positive outlook when things aren’t going well. Maybe I tried too many different approaches at the plate this year, and nothing really clicked. The last couple of weeks, I went back to my old self and I seemed to have been feeling better, stronger.”
Burroughs’ plans are to go play winter ball somewhere, maybe back in Venezuela where he’s been before. Stay in shape, and maybe someone’s apt to give him another shot in the spring.
Otherwise he might look into coaching, or it could be time to get serious about getting married, starting a family and one day investing time into seeing his own son or daughter enjoy Little League as he once did.
Debbie Burroughs is how you would expect someone’s mother to be.
“Let’s focus more about the ups than the downs,” she said about her son Sean’s life over the last 20 years.
“As a mom, you always concentrate on the positives, and see the negatives as a learning experience. I think Sean’s very happy now. So many people still look up to him. He can talk to kids who’ve had the same problems he’s been though.
“He’s healthy. The Dodgers may cultivate him as a coach. He’s very good at speaking Spanish and talking to the younger kids.”
Debbie and Jeff Burroughs happen to be spending this week in Del Mar on their annual vacation with the Lewis family.
As Sean Burroughs’ Little League coach for both those championship years, Lewis, a career attorney still in Long Beach, says the anniversary this summer “sometimes feels like it’s just yesterday, and sometimes it feels like it was two live-times ago; it’s very psychedelic.”
Lewis, like many, wonder how far Burroughs’ big-league career would have gone if not for the obstacles put in his path.
“He has shown a lot of strength,” said Lewis. “He did get sidetracked, but the bottom line is he’s healthy and strong and is going to have a good live – that’s most important. Anything beyond that in baseball is gravy at this point.”
Burroughs reverts to lessons learned from his Little League days about hard work, learning about your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe that best explain why he feels this is the place for him to be at this moment in time.
He said he’ll likely catch some of the World Series championship game on TV today. And when he does, he’ll no doubt have some flashbacks.
“I think the most important thing to remember about Little League is not to take everything too seriously,” Burroughs said.
“Sometimes the kids can get too flashy when they see themselves on TV. That’s part of the fun, I guess, but at the same time, you can’t get away from the most integral part of the game – winning as a team. If you go 0-for-4 and your team wins, that’s what matters.
“That’s not only hard to instill into an 11- or 12-year old – you’re so young, you don’t even know what’s going in your life let alone baseball. But it’s also harder to understand as you get older. When you’re at this level of the minor leagues, you’re so focused on moving up, individual performance.
“I can look back to when I was 21 and in the big leagues, focused on holding my own, wanting to make people feel like they made the right decision about you.
“Sure, that can all build up. The stress of the world can take you down. You just have to figure out how to build yourself back up. I learned that it’s not how far you fall, it’s how you get back up.”
MANAGER: Larry Lewis
COACH: Jeff Burroughs
THE ROSTER: Sean Burroughs, Alex DeFazio, Billy Gwinn, Charlie Hays, Jeremy Hess, Brent Kirkland, Timmy Lewis, Kevin Miller, Chris Miller, Nate Moeiny, Travis Perkins, Scott Tobia, Cassidy Traub and Brady Werner. Note: Burroughs, DeFazio and the Miller twins were also on the 1992 championship team.
The team went 20-1 through its playoff run, with its only loss to Thousand Oaks (16-1, in a Southern California Divisional game).
THE WILLIAMSPORT RUN:
Game 1: Long Beach defeated Hamilton, Ohio, 8-0, behind a Burroughs no-hitter.
Game 2: Long Beach clinched a berth in the U.S. championship defeating Richmond, Va., 12-8, with two homers each from Werner and Kevin Miller and one from Burroughs.
Game 3: Long Beach defeated Bedford, N.H., 21-1, capped by Perkins’ grand slam, and homers from Kirkland, Werner and Tobis.
Game 4: In the U.S. title game, Long Beach again defeated Bedford, N.H., 11-0, with a Burroughs’ no-hitter, 16 strike outs and him hitting two home runs.
Game 5: Long Beach defeated a team from David, Panama, representing Latin America, 3-2, on Aug. 28, 1993, before 40,000 at Lamade Stadium. Hess delivered a two-out, bases-loaded single to win it in the bottom of the sixth inning to bring home pinch-runner Hayes. Panama pitcher Alex Beitia had a no-hitter into the fifth inning with a 2-0 lead. Long Beach’s Werner pitched a complete-game victory, striking out four and allowing one earned run.
Long Beach remains the only U.S. team to win consecutive titles, and the third team to do it in Little League history after Seoul, South Korea (1984-‘85) and Monterrey, Mexico (1957-’58).