Talking with Mr. Walkoff - Chris Burke

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I recently had the opportunity to have a phone chat with former Astro Chris Burke. I think it’s safe to say that Chris Burke’s 18th-inning homerun in the 2005 NLDS was the most exciting one moment I have ever experienced at a baseball park, whether I was playing or watching. Just watching replays of that bomb to clinch the series still gives me goosebumps. I knew that once I found him on twitter I had to see if I could take some of his time to ask him a few questions, and he was happy to oblige. The following is a transcript of our phone conversation (edited for brevity and clarity).

Me: “Chris, thank you so much for your time! Can you tell me what you’ve been up to since we last saw you on the field?”

Chris: “I’ve been a husband and father of three, first and foremost, but I also have a baseball academy called Chris Burke Baseball Academy in Louisville. [I've done] college broadcasting for ESPNU, and I did some Major League stuff last summer with MLB.com. I’m the Life Coach at the University of Louisville, so I do some motivational speaking and bible study with those guys, as well as some speaking around town. I’m also very involved in my church. It’s been a good transition.”

Me: “Since we are on the topic of church, how would you say that your faith helped you throughout your baseball career?”

Chris: “I think faith helped me with persevering through the ups and downs. It keeps you grounded when things are going great, and it keeps you inspired, motivated, and allows you to keep your hope and your joy when things are not going so great. My faith is at the center of everything I do. I don’t know how [athletes stay] sane without it because the game is full of ups and downs and failure. [Faith] is a big reason I was able to maintain relationships and keep some sanity, especially in my last few years in the game when I was bouncing all over the place.”

Me: “I recently came across an article that mentioned your name as an Astros radio broadcasting possibility. Is there any truth to that?”

Chris: “I had a conversation with [the Astros] last fall and just explained to them that I wasn’t in a position to be the full time guy because I would have to move [to Houston] to do that, and I’m not willing to do that right now with the ages of my kids and what we have going on with our family. I told them I’d be willing and excited to fill in for whoever the full time guys are in their off weeks.”

Me: “When you came up in 2004, who would you say helped you the most with your transition?”

Chris: “Lance Berkman. Even though he is a superstar player, he does a really good job of never making the game seem easy or never making a young player, who is struggling with the transition, feel like a failure. I remember I started 0-10 in my career, and somewhere in the midst of that [Lance] came up to me, put his arm around me, and told me he didn’t get a hit until his tenth or eleventh at-bat. It makes you feel good as a young player, when you feel like you have a 2000 pound gorilla on your back trying to get your first hit, to see someone there that was having such an amazing career, tell you that he started 0-10 or 0-11. I saw [him do] that with countless other guys through the years.”

Me: “Speaking of Lance, I saw where you came into Houston to work some with him? How is he holding up?”

Chris: “He is doing great! We’ve been hitting over the last two days, just trying to get his swing to feel comfortable again after a lot of time away. There is no question he can [still] play at a high level, it’s just, can he do it for a full season?”

Me: “Let’s go back to the 2005 playoffs. Everyone remembers the home run, but you came into that game in the tenth inning as a pinch runner. Tell me how that felt, representing the series winning run.”

Chris: “That was a moment of high excitement. They brought me in to run for Lance because [Jeff] Bagwell was going to pinch hit, so I was fired up to potentially score the series winning run from second base. Unfortunately, Jeff made an out, so obviously the game drug on forever from that moment. I actually got to have an at-bat [earlier in the series] in game two, and that was probably the most geeked up I’ve ever been. I hit a double in my first playoff at-bat off of John Smoltz. Your first action in the playoffs is very exciting as a young player.”

Me: “Tell me some more about your role in that playoff run.”

Chris: “My claim to fame was that I hit for the cycle in my first seven or eight playoff at-bats. I hit a double in my first at-bat, then the homer in the 18th inning game, another homer in Game 1 of the NLCS, then a triple and single in Game 2 of the NLCS. So [in my first eight playoff at-bats], I was 5-8 with 2 home runs, a double and triple. It all went downhill from there. It’s been tough to top that. It was a time in my career where I was extremely calm and focused, and I was just really locked-in. When I got some pitches to hit, I was putting my best swings on them. It’s one of those memories that you look back on and it’s like, ‘Man that was fun! Why couldn’t I have had more runs that were that good?’ Obviously the crowing moment was the 18th inning home run, but it was fun to have played well throughout the postseason, not just one swing or one at-bat.”

Me: “Do you still keep up with the Astros, and if so, what do you think of their current direction and forced move to the American League?”

Chris: “I was really disappointed with their move to the A.L. It stinks [with] as much tradition as the Astros have had in the National League, to think that they’re now an A.L. team. They’re in a tough rut. It started, I guess, in 2007 and has now bottomed out with a couple 100-loss seasons in a row. As an Astro and always feeling a sense of connectedness to that organization, it’s tough to see them in such hard times. I do know that [Jim] Crane is a driven, highly motivated guy and I believe that he will get it done. Obviously, the million dollar question is, how long will it take?”

Thanks again Chris for your time, and we hope to be hearing from you again very soon!

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