After a senior season that ended with a 5-4 record to go along with 97 strikeouts and a 1.37 ERA in 56 innings of work, Burris entered the decision of a lifetime. Black and orange or Pilot purple? Both Oregon State and University of Portland showed interest in Burris, who throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball in the mid 80’s to go along with a curve and change.
An uncle’s encouragement and Portland’s heavy interest made the decision a little easier. “It just felt good to be wanted,” comments Burris, who was named 2nd team All-State his senior year. The Pilots went 21-30 this season, losing to Oregon State twice.
In the summer, the athletic lefty plans to play for the Northwest Baseball Team, an 18-and-under AAU team. He also wants to gain some muscle to his 6-1, 175 pound frame with possibly an important role waiting for him next spring. “They’ve told me that I have the opportunity to compete for a starting spot,” said Burris.
Playing in his first year in the PIL, jumping from 2A Portland Lutheran to 6A Franklin, Burris wasn’t certain what to expect. “I wasn’t sure how the hitters would be, but I just stayed confident,” he says. The hitters offered little strain, as he only gave up 21 hits all year.
Despite being a rookie to the Quaker squad, he hardly was the “new guy.” When Burris was younger, he played Little League and Babe Ruth with “just about everybody on the team.”
Burris, voted 1st team all-PIL for both pitcher and outfield, had his brightest moments in heartbreaking defeats. In the PIL opener against Grant, Burris had a no-hitter and a six-run lead going into the seventh but the bullpen fell apart and Franklin lost 7-6 in extra innings.
In an early March match-up against Wilson, Burris went toe-to-toe against OSU-bound Joey Mahalic. “I figured I would probably have to pitch a no-hitter or something,” admits Burris. His prophecy almost become true, as Franklin’s ace had a no-no through six. The southpaw pitched seven beautiful innings, striking out eight while allowing only two runs on two hits. All for naught. The Quakers fell to the Trojans 2-0.
When the spotlight shined brightest, the State Playoffs, Burris turned in one of his finest performances. As he was warming up for the game against Lake Oswego, he began to feel some pain in his prized gun. “My arm hurt real bad before the game and I didn’t think I’d be able to pitch,” he admits. So how does a kid with a left arm hanging by a thread, eventually diagnosed as a rotator cuff injury that will keep him from throwing for six weeks, respond? Brilliantly.
Despite that his team couldn’t deliver a single hit all game, Burris hurled six innings of three-hit ball, striking out six while allowing the only run of the game. Unearned, of course. “I tried to work on my mental game and not let the other team get a big inning and not get my head down when there’s an error.”
In the spring of 2006, Burris was in the middle of a season at Portland Lutheran, who ended up 0-24 on the year. “At the time I really wanted to go to another school and get more exposure,” Burris admits. His arm was hurting from overuse and his pride was hurting from constantly losing. “That was a really hard season to go through,” he says, but is quick to point out the leadership that was molded from that year. “Even losing all those games, I made sure that no one hung their heads and we still tried hard.”
After shining in summer ball there came another decision that changed the young lefty’s life. Where would he attend school his senior year? After enrolling and being accepted at rival Portland Christian—“I even had my classes ready”—his mother decided to intervene.
A week before school was supposed to start Mrs. Burris, who is on the Board of Directors at Portland Lutheran, heavily encouraged her son to stay a Blue Jay. A wish that was granted. Since the small school cancelled their baseball program, he was eligible to play ball at Franklin while he attended Portland Lutheran, where he was also a 1st team All-League basketball player.
The athletic left-hander has gained some admiration for a fellow southpaw, claiming that his favorite pitcher is Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana—“I don’t have as dirty of stuff as him,” Burris laughs. The other pitcher that Burris looks up to is former Grant star Paul Ragilone (right - picture from scouts.com). “I talk to him about 2-3 times a week. He’s taught me a lot about pitching and I want to strive to be like him.”
It was just last spring that Burris was finishing up a winless season that felt like it lasted all year. He now is looking at a possible starting spot at a Division I university. What a difference a year makes.
Story by Jesse Severson