Former Warren infielder excited to be 'Cubbie'
Baseball loves its mop-up men, guys who throw filthy stuff and players who dig dirt.
Put Matt Burch in the last category.
"I love my dirtballs, my fireplugs," Burch said.
In signing the 5-foot-7 Burch, an undrafted free agent and a 2016 Warren Township High School graduate, the Cubs got themselves a dirtball/fireplug. Just not a cleanup hitter, so to speak.
The left-handed-hitting second baseman officially signed his contract with the Cubs on Wednesday after playing the last two seasons for Old Dominion University. The Cubs contacted him after the June draft, which was shortened from 40 rounds to 5 this year.
"I'm going to bring a whole lot of character and a whole lot of hard work," Burch said. "I take pride in how I play the game of baseball. I believe it's supposed to be played a certain way, and that's to play very hard. Especially after what we went through this year (with COVID-19), you never know when it's going to be your last game."
Back in March, after the NCAA baseball season was shut down due to the pandemic, thoughts ran through Burch's head that he might have played his final competitive baseball game. When the NCAA eventually granted seniors such as Burch an extra year of eligibility if they wanted it, it least eased his mind that his baseball days weren't over.
Burch started all 16 games in Old Dominion's shortened season, and the dirtball sparkled, batting .302 with 19 hits, including 3 doubles, and 11 RBI. He started all 56 games at second base his junior season, finishing with a .298 batting average (73 hits) and stealing 14 bases in 15 attempts. If he would have had a full senior season, and if the draft was not drastically shortened, he was confident he would have been picked.
"I'm very humble and I know anything can happen, but this is definitely something that I've worked all my life for," Burch said. "I've made a lot of sacrifices, all for the love of the game."
A four-year varsity shortstop for Warren, Burch earned a scholarship to Arkansas. He played one season for the Razorbacks and then transferred to Wabash Valley junior college in Illinois. Then it was on to Old Dominion, his third college in as many years. He says each stop was a test and presented an opportunity for him to mature as both a man and ballplayer.
"I've had a pretty unique road and very satisfying road, to say the least," Burch said. "And it's a road that's not coming to an end any time soon."
Not blessed with height, Burch says he modeled his game after the likes of Jose Altuve (5-6), Dustin Pedroia (5-9), Ozzie Albies (5-8) and Kolton Wong (5-10). The success of those players at the major league level gives him confidence that he can continue to succeed on the field, despite his physical shortcomings.
Late last month, Burch finished playing for the Peninsula Pilots in the Coastal Plain League, a wood-bat collegiate summer league. With no minor league baseball this year, that likely will be his final baseball of 2020.
At 22, he feels he can be a mentor to younger players at whatever level he ends up playing in 2021. Just as he did after the college season was shut down, Burch plans to keep a routine this year of lifting, cardio, hitting, long toss and groundballs.
He graduated from Old Dominion with a degree in sports management.
"I'm going to continue to improve and stay ready, so I don't have to get ready," Burch said. "That's the whole mind set."
Growing up in Gurnee, Burch says he and his dad, Steve, rooted for both the Cubs and White Sox. He calls his dad his "rock" and "universe." If he can make it to the big leagues for the local team, it would make his dream that much sweeter.
"It couldn't have worked out any better being a Cubbie now," Burch said.
It's time to get dirty again.