June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Baseball: Brunswick’s Kyle Burson has been remarkably steady

Kyle Burson off the field is the same as Kyle Burson on the field.

Let’s explain.

Brunswick second baseman Kyle Burson tags out Hudson’s Zach Gronowskiiin the top of the fourth inning in the Hudson Division I District title game. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY JUDD SMERGLIA)

In street clothes, the Brunswick senior is highly intelligent, grounded and hard-working, yet is the type of person who can remain quiet for long stretches before inducing laughter with a sarcastic one-liner.

In a blue and white baseball uniform, the All-Gazette second baseman is also workmanlike, the prototypical leadoff hitter and remarkably consistent in a game known for its ups and downs, yet has a knack for producing game-changing moments.

Underrated? There’s no question as the Blue Devils head into today’s Canton Division I Regional semifinal against Mentor at Thurman Munson Stadium.

“Best middle fielder in the state,” pitcher/first baseman Gerry Salisbury said without hesitation. “He’s got the best hands and the best range I’ve ever seen. There’s nobody better than him.

“We’ve caught ourselves taking him for granted a couple times. You realize when you see another second baseman, you’re like, ‘Geez, Kyle would have made that play.’ He makes all the plays — always.”

The Blue Devils have played together, laughed together, won together and lost together — although winning has far outweighed losing — for nearly 10 years now. Eight members of the current team, including Burson, can trace their travel ball days back to the Brunswick Wolverines.

The game is an addiction Burson doesn’t even attempt to shake.

“I’ve always loved it,” he said. “It’s something I’ve grown up with my whole life, and it’s real fun.”

Once the group reached varsity, Burson became a driving force as the primary second baseman — he takes over short when Ohio State recruit Kyle Michalik pitches — leadoff hitter and Swiss Army-knife reliever.

What makes Burson unique is an enviable trait. Most athletes, regardless of sport, are strong in certain areas and weak in others. Burson is remarkably steady in every facet.

In 117 plate appearances this season, he has walked 17 times and been hit by eight pitches for a .479 on-base percentage. Those numbers pale in comparison to the most eye-popping: He has struck out once.

Though Burson humbly argues the number is actually closer to three whiffs, his official 92-1 at-bats-per-strikeout ratio is nearly 50 percent better than MLB career record holder Willie Keeler, who played for the Baltimore Orioles, Brooklyn Superbas and New York Highlanders in the Dead Ball Era.

Burson is not facing run-of-the-mill pitchers, either, as the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division alone features Mentor’s Kade McClure (Louisville) and Danny Trimble (St. Bonaventure), Strongsville’s Austin Previt (Lake Erie) and Medina’s Mike Ellenbest (Saginaw Valley State) and Cory Teachout (Ashland).

“I’m just always looking to put the ball in play and do my job,” the 18-year-old said matter-of-factly. “I try not to do too much with it, especially when it gets to be two strikes. I shorten up and put the ball in play.

“I want to go out there and get on base knowing there are good hitters behind me and if I get on, they’ll drive me in.”

It doesn’t end there. Burson has committed just two errors and has just six in 161 chances dating back to the beginning of 2012. The .969 percentage is a mere .005 lower than future Hall of Fame shortstop Omar Vizquel.

Toss in a 2.75 ERA with a Medina County-best five saves as the team’s go-to reliever over the past two years and it’s hard to fathom why Burson’s only collegiate offers are from Division II Ohio Dominican and Walsh and D-III Heidelberg.

To top it off, Burson has battled through early season ankle and wrist injuries.

“I’ve been coaching high school-level baseball for 18 years,” said Blue Devils coach Todd Winston, who was a first baseman/catcher/pitcher in the Astros organization. “Hand’s down, he has the best hands on a middle infielder I’ve ever coached.

“I am shocked he’s still out there without a scholarship from the Division I level.”

Burson said a college decision is coming soon. In the meantime, he’s focused on getting Brunswick to the state semifinals for the first time since 1988.

If the Blue Devils do reach Columbus, Burson’s consistency will be a reason why.

“It’s definitely special,” he said. “Once we got everybody together, we started rolling.

“It’s been really fun,” he added, “especially winning.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.