Baseball according to Burnett


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Potomac second baseman Mark Burnett is part Walt Whitman, part Crash Davis and 100 percent himself.

If he’s not wreaking havoc at the plate or on the base paths, the Cannons’ leadoff hitter is handing out his opinions on baseball, music or life in general. Even his former theme song, played before each of his at-bats at Pfitzner Stadium, has special meaning to the philosophy and English major from Bryant, Ark.

The song is called “Airbag” by Radiohead and Burnett chose it to explain how he felt when the St. Louis Cardinals picked him up in extended spring training after he requested his release from the Cincinnati Reds in April.

“That song is about the feeling you get when you’re driving your car and you almost have a wreck and you screech your tires, you clench, and then you look up and you realize that you’re alright,” Burnett said. “And you feel like you got a new life. It’s redemption, it’s like you are being born again.”

A fresh start has translated into a successful second half with the Cannons. Burnett was called up to Double-A New Haven just before the Carolina League All-Star break despite struggling at the plate in the first half. He hit .308 in 15 games in New Haven but was sent back down again at the start of August.

Instead of sulking, Burnett has stayed upbeat and the proof is in the numbers. The left-hander has 25 hits in his last 17 games including 5 three-hit games for a .362 batting average. In a recent six-game road stretch, five of them Potomac wins, Burnett collected 10 hits, had 13 RBI and scored five runs from the leadoff spot. His road performance earned him Carolina League Player of the Week, the first time a Potomac position player was given that award in 2002.

Surprisingly, Burnett was somewhat at a loss to explain his recent hitting binge.

“I am trying to think about what I’ve been doing so I can seal it up, bottle it and bury it,” said Burnett, who’s hitting .271 with 40 RBI and nine stolen bases in 66 games with Potomac. “But I can’t really tell anything. I am trying to do the same thing every time and it’s just one of those things where I suppose I’m seeing the ball earlier than I have been.”

Burnett was surprised with how poorly he was hitting in the first half with Potomac. In three years of pro ball, only in 2001 did he struggle at the plate, hitting just .224 at Stockton of the Class A California League.

“Throughout my career, I’ve played pretty well, I’ve been a pretty good hitter,” said Burnett, who played with current Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Eric Hinske at the University of Arkansas. “I haven’t been satisfied with the way that I have played, at least offensively, in the first half here. …I moved up to AA, I did well there and ever since then, I have been more confident and I have felt a lot better when I get in the [batter’s] box.”

“He gets on base and any time you get on base, you’re going to be important to have in the lineup,” Potomac manager Joe Cunningham said. “He drove in some big runs for us, especially on that road trip….You can’t expect the same guys to do it everyday and that’s where the other guys have to step up. And he happened to be a guy that stepped up at that particular time. It would be nice if we had about eight of ’em in that lineup who would do it.”

As a child, Burnett always thought he would break Hank Aaron’s home run record by the time he was 25. However, the 5-11, 175-pound infielder who’s now 25 soon realized that he played more like [former major league leadoff hitter] Brett Butler than slugger Barry Bonds.

“What I am going to do is bunt more than he [Butler] did,” laughed Burnett, who hit only five career home runs in high school.

In philosophy, on the other hand, you could say Burnett always had Socrates-type potential. He was valedictorian of his high school graduating class and he never made a B till halfway through college.

“I’ve been called many names by this team and I can’t say that I haven’t been called a nerd,” Burnett said. “That’s one on the top of the list.”

“He makes them laugh…” Cunningham said of his colorful second baseman. “In this game, you got all kinds of different personalities on teams.”

When Burnett first started in college, baseball was still more intesting than books. But that all changed in a lonely first semester away from Benton.

“I actually started reading when I got to junior college,” Burnett said. “I was really depressed when I got away from home and I was struggling my freshman fall, so the school library became my sanctuary….I would just sit there with a cup of coffee and anthologies of literature and I fell in love with it. I just started reading more and I was like, ‘this is great, I love this.'”

Currently, Burnett is writing a book about the ins and outs of baseball, both as a game and as a way to make a living. Because it’s from a player’s perspective, Burnett thinks the book will hit it big.

“Really, it’s going to be for everyone, not just baseball fans who want to hear anecdotes or human interest stories about the game but also for parents of maybe a high school guy that might be ready to get drafted high,” Burnett said. “Should I sign or should I not sign? Well, here’s what the game is really about, written from a first-person perspective.”

Along with being the team’s intellectual, he is also very musically inclined. He and two former teammates at Arkansas created a band called “The Gaze”. They are still missing a drummer and a bassist but that hasn’t stopped any idea exhange between Burnett and his friends Ike Pohle and Travis McDaniel, both of whom live in San Francisco.

“If we have an idea for a song, they’ll e-mail me a riff, and I will take the riff and loop it, put in on my thing [keyboard] and I might add a bass track and send it back to them and see what they think about it,” Burnett said. “That’s all we can do.”

Whether he makes it big in either music or baseball, it doesn’t matter that much to Burnett. He wants to eventually make it to the major leagues simply to earn an easy life as a college professor. Burnett credits his former college literature teacher Ron Cowan for keeping him interested in the field of education.

“He [Cowan] didn’t know it at the time but he was really influencing me to keep going and keep doing it because I looked up to him,” Burnett said. “One day, if I ever decide to get married he was a justice of the peace I’d like to track him down and have him marry us. That would be pretty cool.”

But not as cool as his vision for baseball.

“My idea for the way baseball should be played in the year 2020 would be to have mini Bose speakers set up all around the field in different spots, and have classical music throughout the whole show,” Burnett said. “You always watch movies, you hear classical music…there’s like a natural rhthym [to it.] There’s a natural rhythm to the game and it follows through musically, and I think having something like that would be great. [I would] make it a rule that the fans would have to be quiet. They could clap when there is a good play but that’s it.”

Like many of his recent at-bats, that sounds like a hit.

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