Tulo, Burgess enjoy shared journey to Derby
Bond between Rockies' All-Star, bullpen catcher forged after chance meeting in '07
MINNEAPOLIS -- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki came home from the 2007 World Series and one day decided to walk over to All Star Academy, the batting cage business across the street from his home in Sunnyvale, Calif. Problem was he wasn't sure if anyone was available to pitch to him.
There he bumped into Pat Burgess, an old high school baseball teammate.
Now, seven years later, Tulowitzki is in his fourth All-Star Game, and Monday night was his first time in the Gillette Home Run Derby. All of that was expected, given his career success.
And right there at Target Field with him, throwing him pitches the way he did during that chance meeting years ago, was Burgess. Now serving as the bullpen catcher -- and, it turns out, a lot more -- for the Rockies, Burgess pitched to Tulowitzki, who lasted into the second round, as well as Rockies teammate Justin Morneau, who lost out to the Reds' Todd Frazier in a first-round swing-off.
"I never thought I would be there," said Burgess, 30. "I'll never forget that experience. It was awesome. I wish I could've performed better and helped the guys to a deeper round. But it was fun."
"That was neat," Tulowitzki said. "I can't tell you how many times he's thrown to me over the years and made me the player that I am. Without his help, I wouldn't be the player that I am and I wouldn't be here. He deserved it as much as me."
Burgess -- who after high school played two years at De Anza College in California and two years at Division III Greensboro (N.C.) College -- does more than catch bullpen sessions. When he and Tulowitzki reunited, it began a relationship neither of them expected.
"To be honest with you, he was on my team and we had a good time at the field, but I had my group of guys I grew up with in Little League," Tulowitzki said. "Then I went off to college."
When they reunited, they helped one another.
"I was still playing at the time and training, so we would work out together," Burgess said. "I would throw to him and he would throw to me. When I quit playing, I said, 'I'll still throw to you and work out with you if you want.'" Burgess' break came when Mark Strittmatter -- who is now back with the Rockies as the organization's catching coordinator -- left the club to become a catching coach for the Pirates. Burgess interviewed and earned the job. He's more than a bullpen catcher.
Burgess continued as Tulowitzki's hitting confidant, and soaked up information from veteran Jason Giambi when he played for the Rockies. Burgess would throw Giambi's cage sessions. Before last season, when Rockies legend Todd Helton was debating whether to play one more year, he made the decision to do so during a cage session with Burgess throwing to him.
"I don't share my information with many people, but he knows me better than anybody," Tulowitzki said. "That's me as a person, that's me as a baseball player, that's me at the plate. He's a guy that challenges me. Besides my father, to get a chance to share this experience with, meaning to throw [to me] in the Home Run Derby, no one would be higher than him.
"He is the hardest-working guy I've probably ever known. He's behind the scenes. He never wants to be talked about, never wants to take any of the credit. He just wants to work. That's hard to find in today's day and age, but it fits me perfectly. When we get in the cage together, I think we're both on a mission. I think some good things have come out of those late nights hitting."
Morneau didn't advance far in the Derby, but he was able to soak in the love from the Minnesota crowd. Morneau played for the Twins from 2003 through last August, when he was traded to the Pirates. He reacted to the trade by taking out a full-page newspaper ad thanking the Minnesota fans. This winter he signed with the Rockies, and the Derby gave the fans a chance to thank him with thunderous applause.
Tulowitzki, who picked Morneau for the Derby even though the first baseman fell short in the Final Vote for the last spot on the National League All-Star team, enjoyed the moment.
"That was cool -- the loudest cheer of the night," Tulowitzki said.
"That was pretty amazing," Morneau said. "I was real close to getting tears in the eyes there. You can't really prepare yourself for something like that."
2014 Home Run Derby results
|AL||Rd. 1||Rd. 2||Rd. 3||Finals||Rd. 3||Rd. 2||Rd. 1||NL|
|Brian Dozier||2||1||6||2||Todd Frazier|
|Jose Bautista||10||Bye||4||Cespedes 9||2||4||Troy Tulowitzki|
|Adam Jones||4||3||Frazier 1||0||Yasiel Puig|
|Josh Donaldson||3||0||Bye||6||Giancarlo Stanton|
|Yoenis Cespedes||3||9||7||2||Justin Morneau|