Three years ago it would have been unlikely that Greg Burke would have imagined he’d be where he is right now, in a big league spring training camp, no less having a shot (albeit a long one) to break camp with the San Diego Padres as a member of their bullpen.
Burke, now 26, graduated from Duke University in 2005 with a double major in business and sociology, having done the “five-year plan” after undergoing Tommy John surgery as a sophomore and red-shirting.
The 2005 draft came and went and with it, for the time being, so did Burke’s dreams of going into pro ball. But after signing with an independent league near his New Jersey home, he caught the eye of a scout who invited him to come to a tryout for the San Diego Padres the following winter.
And voila, Burke was a Padre. He pitched in middle relief at Class A Fort Wayne and Advanced A Lake Elsinore in ’06 and ’07, putting up numbers that could be fairly described as unremarkable. And as a non-drafted free agent, he knew that he wasn’t going to get an unlimited number of chances to pursue this dream that had been revived.
“I felt this was do or die coming into last season,” said Burke. “I needed to show someone something, I needed to shock people to make the Double-A team and open eyes.”
So that winter Burke hit the gym like a madman, lifting weights to fill out his admittedly skinny frame.
The results? He not only made the Double-A San Antonio squad, he was one of the top relievers in the Texas League, posting a 2.24 ERA with 23 saves and striking out 92 batters while walking 17 in 84 1/3 innings.
He collected saves in his last five games with an ERA of 1.62 in August.
And having an off-season to remember didn’t hurt either. Shortly after his team was eliminated from the Texas League playoff picture (swept in three in the semifinals) it was off to Arizona for Burke, where he was one of the Padres’ participants in the elite Arizona Fall League.
And a few weeks after his return home from Arizona, he walked down the aisle with his fianceé Megan, the culmination of a two-year engagement, and finally got some downtime in the form of a honeymoon in Jamaica with his bride.
Before leaving for spring training in Peoria, the Burkes relocated to Maryland where Megan runs a Philly Pretzel Factory store outside of Baltimore (NOTE: Her store is the one listed in Nottingham, the second one down on this link, so be sure to go buy pretzels there if you’re in the Baltimore area!!!)
Burke continued to work out, gave lessons at a facility, and, while he was at it, learned how to make pretzels.
“It was good,” he said, “because I got to be with my wife and I got to eat all the pretzels I wanted.”
Despite his non-drafted tryout status, Burke has emerged as a true relief prospect for the Padres, with his likely destination Triple-A Portland as the Beavers’ closer.
“My goal is to make sure that I’m ready and 100 percent able to give whatever I have to my fullest potential,” he said. “In the past I think I could have worked harder, and last season when I realized I had to put everything into it, I saw the results immediately.”
GotMoLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Burke: As far as personal accomplishments, graduating college was huge for me. I went to Catholic school and got good grades but when someone told me that Duke University was recruiting me and giving me a full scholarship I couldn’t believe it. Now I have a college degree from Duke and never in a million years would I Have thought I could do that. And I still got to live my dream of playing baseball, so it was the best of both worlds.
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Burke: There was a time in college when I thought that would be the situation immediately. I thought I’d go get a desk job somewhere and make decent money. Then I got a little taste of that and hated it. I thought about maybe staying in sports, not necessarily coaching but maybe a front office job somewhere. But it’s tough to think about it until it’s serious conversation.
GotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Burke: I don’t know if this is a talent or not but I have an uncanny ability of making people comfortable around me. But as far as physical talents, I can make pretzels, I guess.
GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I …
Burke: Used to have the worst haircut in high school history. I don’t know if it was a northern thing but I used to shave the sides of my head and the top was three to four inches long. At the time I thought it was awesome but looking back on the pictures … I used to dye it bleached blonde on top and I was super skinny with big ears. (GotMilB note: Burke had said he’d send us a picture but sadly he apparently had second thoughts … probably can’t blame him but if he sends it, we will post it!)
GotMiLB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Burke: I used to work landscaping and it was the worst. I worked for my brother, who was a couple of years older than me and the partial owner of this landscaping business my cousin owns. So I would get a job in the summer and go with him and since I was always new I was always low man on the totem pole, digging the ditches and picking the blocks up. I love my brother but he bossed me around and the hours were long. But I learned from it …I learned what I didn’t want to do.
GotMiLB: What is your guiltiest TV pleasure?
Burke: I’m all over the reality TV shows on VH1: “I Love Money,” “Flavor Of Love,” one of those shows. And I recently got into “The Real Housewives of Orange County”. And I’ve been watching “Spongebob Squarepants” because Megan has three little nieces and I got hooked on it.
GotMiLB: What reality TV show would you kick butt on?
Burke: Probably “I Love Money.” You have to play the game.
GotMiLB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?
Burke: I’m not sure anyone specifically but someone on the Philadelphia Eagles. I’m a big fan of theirs so I’d like to get in that locker room and see what it’s like.
GotMiLB: Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Burke: Obviously some good looking guy. I could see Vince Vaughn playing me.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Burke: The time away from my family and especially from my new wife. We’ve been together forever so this offseason was great because we got to be together but now I have to leave again. The good thing is now that we’re married we can be together more consistently. It’s like a dual lifestyle like some superhero, being away and being home.
GotMiLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change?
Burke: I’d outlaw buses. From now on the budget must include flights from city to city and we’d stay at nice hotels, comfortable places. The buses are horrendous.