Burdi's Downers Grove South coach relishing pitcher's early success with White Sox

  • White Sox reliever Zack Burdi works against Cleveland in a Feb. 28 spring training game in Glendale, Ariz.

    White Sox reliever Zack Burdi works against Cleveland in a Feb. 28 spring training game in Glendale, Ariz. Associated Press

  • Zack Burdi.

    Zack Burdi. Associated Press

Updated 8/13/2020 5:31 PM

He was finally recovered from the elbow injury and Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for part of 2017 and the entire 2018 season.

Fully healed from the knee injury that knocked him out of the second half of last year.


For Zack Burdi, realizing his goal of pitching in the major leagues was interrupted by some challenging health issues, but he kept on pushing and reached it last Saturday.

"Being from Chicago and making your debut for the White Sox is what 50 percent of Chicago dreams of," said Burdi, a Downers Grove native. "The other 50 percent obviously dreams about the Cubs. But for me, this was my dream and this was something I thought about when I was a kid. Three years ago, to have that kind of cut short with injuries and to think that I was going to get the chance to prove myself again and then get cut short again with another couple of injuries, back-to-back years and then sadly with the pandemic going on and the world kind of being as crazy as it is, that's a huge gap."

Burdi grew up a Sox fan, and he's now wearing the uniform after closing that gaping gap.

No fans are allowed at major league games this season due to COVID-19, but plenty of family members and friends were watching on TV when the 25-year-old relief pitcher took the mound Aug. 8 at Guaranteed Rate Field in his first game.

Facing the Indians, Burdi gave up 1 hit and had 2 strikeouts in 1 scoreless inning.

Darren Orel, among others, tuned in to watch Burdi begin his promising big-league career.

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"Everything he's been through, fighting through those injuries, it takes a tremendous amount of character and perseverance to get through those things," said Orel, Burdi's baseball coach at Downers Grove South High School. "I would have loved to have been there live, everybody would have. Unfortunately I wasn't, but it was really special seeing him out there.

"I noticed when he got there, he kind of looked around. He was taking it all in and that was neat to see. Knowing him for such a long time and seeing him play at such a different level of baseball, it was very, very cool. And I'm a big Sox fan, so that makes it even a little extra special."

When they were in high school, Orel knew he had some special talent in Zack and his older brother Nick, who pitches for the Pittsburgh Pirates but is out for the season with an elbow injury.

The Burdi brothers are the only two players from either Downers Grove South or North to ever reach the majors.

"In high school, college (Louisville), after he was drafted, I've seen (Zack) at all different levels and he's never really changed in terms of his personality, the way he goes about doing his job," Orel said. "And the Burdi family is tremendous. They're very close, they've always stayed in contact, stayed connected to Downers Grove South. I'm just blessed to have had the opportunity to coach them, going back to camps when I coached Drew, he was more of a football guy, Nick and then Zack when they were in the fifth grade.


"I've known the boys a long time, the family a long time. Mr. and Mrs. Burdi (Robert and Deborah), they are class people that are super-involved with school, the boosters, any kind of support that was ever needed. So you just really root for a family and kids who not only have talent and ability but work really hard at it and care about everyone around them."

With Zack Burdi, Orel never would have predicted a future career in the major leagues because the odds are so slim. But he knew the White Sox's first-round pick in the 2016 draft (No. 26 overall) had a better chance than most.

"Guys nowadays will say they can hit 90, 92 (mph), but they don't necessarily pitch at that," Orel said "By his senior year, Zack could throw a whole game between 87 and 92, for all 90 pitches. You don't see that with a lot of other kids. They'll hit 93, 94, but that might be one or two pitches in the whole game and the rest are 84 to 87. Zack could throw at that velocity the whole game."

Now that he's a relief pitcher for the Sox, Burdi goes max effort and his fastball consistently is clocked at close to 100 mph. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder followed up his debut with another scoreless inning at Detroit Tuesday.

"My role right now is to go out there and get outs and throw strikes," Burdi said. "Be healthy every time that they call down to the bullpen for me and be effective."


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