September 6, 2013
by Wayne McBrayer with photos by Rebecca Herman
On our recent trip to Tucson to see the see the last 3 games of the Tucson Padres, we discussed the players we wanted to interview; two players came to mind – Kyle Blanks and Burch Smith. Our fear was one, if not both, would be called up from the minor leagues during our visit. Kyle Blanks told us he was very busy with rehab and was apologetic about not having the time to talk. Burch Smith was a different story. We saw him briefly before his start on Thursday, and couldn’t get to him in time to chat. We had media credentials, so we did have the ability to go into the clubhouse but we decided to hold off on that and interview players outside.
On Thursday night, the Tucson Padres were auctioning the “shirts off the back” so I decided I was going to get Burch Smiths’ jersey. I bid on it and won the jersey. I kidded a friend that I had bought my interview. After the game, I looked for Burch and couldn’t find him. I asked where he was and was directed to the opposite side of the dugout from where I was standing. I walked up and a player asked me, “Who are you looking for?” I said Burch Smith and the player said, “That’s me.” We shook hands and I asked for an interview that he graciously gave us.
Burch told us his earliest memory of baseball was “playing catch with a whiffle ball – we were in Dallas at the time – we were having renovations done on our house and I was playing catch with some of the construction workers, I was making them throw the ball to me in the backyard.” He was about 6 or 7 when I started playing organized t-ball. Growing up in Dallas, Burch was a fan of the Texas Rangers and his favorite player was, you guessed it, Nolan Ryan (also the favorite player of Andrew Cashner.) Burch liked Ryan because, “He was way in advance for his time as his training between starts and his conditioning, lifting weights, doing long toss.” Burch has never met him, although he has seen him make a couple of speeches in person.
Burch pitched for Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas and was a 2008 all-district pitcher and a 2008 All-East Texas Pitcher first team. He compiled a high school career mark of 11-3 with a 1.68 ERA with 153 strikeouts in 150 innings pitched. Moving on to Howard Jr. College, he pitched for their 2009 NCAA National Championship Jr. College team. “Winning the National Championship in JR. College with Howard Jr. College” is Burch proudest accomplishment at this point in his career. He remained there through 2010, finishing his last Jr. College year with a 11-2 record and a 2.50 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 90 innings. Burch pitched one year for the University of Oklahoma compiling a 10-4 record and a 3.90 ERA, and continuing to show to everyone who watched that he was a power pitcher who was continuing to develop. The San Diego Padres took notice and selected Burch with their 14th round draft pick in the 2011 draft. Burch signed with the Padres and was sent to the Arizona Rookie League where he pitched 2 innings at the end of the season.
For 2012, the Padres promoted Burch all the way to A+ Lake Elsinore. A huge jump for a young pitcher to make but Burch was up to the task striking out 137 in 128.2 innings with only 27 walks to go with a 9-6 record and a 3.85 ERA. This season, Burch was promoted to AA San Antonio where he was 1-2 with a 1.15 ERA. In 31.1 innings, he had 37 strikeouts and only 6 walks with a fastball clocked at 100 MPH! On May 8th, with Clayton Richard hurt, the Padres called up Burch from San Antonio. He struggled during his few appearances with the Padres and the Padres decided to send him back down, but not to San Antonio, but to AAA Tucson.
During his stay with the Tucson Padres, he pitched well in the hitter friendly league. In 12 games, he was 5-1 with a 3.39 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 61 innings and only 17 walks. Burch was recalled September 2nd and will be pitching the night this story is posted. He is headed to the Arizona Fall League in October to work on his craft; “I’m always trying to get better. Fastball execution, since I’m a predominant fastball pitcher. I’m always working on locating the fastball and throwing off-speed for strikes.”
Good luck tonight Burch. If you are half the pitcher Nolan Ryan is, the Padres will be in great shape for a long time.
Interview & Story by Wayne McBrayer, TheCasualFan
Editing & Photography by Rebecca Herman, TheBaseballPHD