Burger’s spirit burns bright for JasperJune 11, 2021
By JIMMY LAFAKIS
A chance to compete
JASPER — Caleb Burger is soaking up this moment. He doesn’t quite know it yet, but this night will be one to remember.
The Jasper Wildcats (29-2) are about to meet Center Grove for the Regional 4 championship at Ruxer Field. Burger sits in the first-base dugout as he stays loose with his teammates. A young man partaking in the sweet joys of America’s national pastime, the senior’s wide grin beams from ear-to-ear.
He doesn’t know how he will contribute in Jasper’s thrilling 7-4 victory over Center Grove. He just knows he’s earned his spot.
He draws a key walk during a pivotal fifth inning — a frame where the Cats flip the entire game on its head and seize control of the catbird’s seat. Seven runs come home in that fateful frame, and Burger is one of the seven Jasper players to cross home plate. He is in the mix, as he always seems to be.
Next thing he knows, he’s leaping atop a massive dog pile on the pitcher’s mound.
Jasper players, managers and fans jump for joy. The Cats hoist the regional championship trophy high in the night sky.
The dog pile morphs into a microcosm of Burger’s love for his team and his town.
“A lot of people around here show out for Jasper baseball,” Burger said. “That’s the big thing about Jasper. You always hear about the tradition and history of success that we’ve had. The thing that’s most special is when you play in a regional and sectional and see how many people come out and support you. In high school, it’s just an amazing feeling. Playing with a team like this is just awesome. That’s probably my favorite part — building bonds that I’ll never forget and memories.”
Carving his path
Over the years, Burger has developed a keen sense of esteem for those who came before him at Jasper. He yearns to write his own chapter in the Cats’ storied history.
“You know that when you go out there, take the field and have ‘Jasper’ across your chest, you know you’re representing the players from the past who have won state championships and have had a lot of success,” Burger said.
A deep Jasper unit has prepared for this afternoon’s Class 4A Semi-State 4 game against Mount Vernon (Fortville) at Ruxer Field. Cats head coach Terry Gobert compared each game’s lineup to a different puzzle. At this stage in the season, Jasper’s talented opponents present different challenges. The coaching staff must assemble the proper pieces for success.
Recently, Burger has found his fit within those puzzles. He shows his value through his utility as a designated hitter, an infielder and a pitcher.
“He has always answered the bell,” Gobert said. “I’m sure he was disappointed that he wasn’t playing more. If he had pouted or quit working, he would never have gotten back in the lineup. He didn’t do that. I just like kids that are competitive.”
A true multi-sport athlete, Burger has embraced the peaks and valleys of football, basketball and baseball. By his own admission, he finds joy in each practice and workout. For Burger, there is beauty within the ordinary.
“I enjoy every moment of it,” he said. “I enjoy going to practice and getting better every day. I enjoy competing against my teammates and other teams from around here. I love competing at whatever I do. That’s why I fell in love with sports. That’s why I’ve played three of them — to compete and to represent Jasper each and every game.”
Burger has held himself accountable as a leader this year. As a senior, he sets a standard for the younger Cats to follow.
“When you compete hard, your other teammates watch you do that,” Burger said. “They play hard. It’s all about playing for one another. If you just have one guy like that who shows you to compete and hustle all the time, it carries over. That’s always been the player I’ve been, ever since I’ve played Little League sports and all that. You always give your best, 100% of the time. You walk off the field or court with a smile.”
Baseball has helped Burger establish a high level of consistency. Jasper’s coaches keep their eyes on the Cats’ habits.
“We watch them more than they realize,” Gobert said. “When they’re in the dugout, when they’re at practice, when they’re backing somebody up. I have no idea what kids do off the field or when they’re away from us, but he fought hard for a chance and took advantage of it.”
Burger’s spirited nature has rubbed off on his teammates. He enjoys playing video games such as “MLB: The Show,” “NBA 2K” and “Fortnite” with his fellow Cats. Ultimately, he has earned his peers’ respect.
“He’s always a competitor,” Jasper senior Andrew Wallace said. “He’s always fighting. He’s just willing to get after it.”
Steady progress is key for Burger and the Cats. Gobert lauded Burger’s gradual improvement throughout the year.
“As the season’s progressed, he’s gotten better,” Gobert said. “Trust me, we wouldn’t run him out there in the seventh at second base if we didn’t believe in him.”
Burger will further his education at Indiana University this fall. He has a passion for serving the public, so he will align his values with his criminal justice major.
“I’m excited to get up there next year,” Burger said. “It will be a lot of fun. A different environment than what it is here in Jasper, but I’m ready to get going and learn new things that I haven’t learned yet. A few of my buddies are going up to IU, so it should be a lot of fun.”
His journey to Bloomington will commence in due time, but Burger believes he must handle unfinished business. Before he jogged off to join his teammates during a recent practice at Ruxer, he offered some parting thoughts about Jasper’s campaign.
“Coming into practice during spring break, we worked our butts off,” Burger said. “Every practice that we’ve had, these guys have shown no quit in the season. We’ve always worked hard. We’ve had a fun season, so we hope to continue it. That’s the biggest thing. Our team doesn’t quit.”
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