Fusing baseball and brains

NEIL BLAKE/The Herald
Dubois County Bombers pitcher Joe Burg

You threw a no-hitter in your first varsity start in high school. What are your memories of that day?
I was a sophomore and I threw a no-hitter against St. Pat’s. They were the state runner-ups from the previous year. It was a cold day, we had some wind and that just cut the ball down. I threw a lot of fastballs, I didn’t have to go to a secondary pitch too much.

Did you play any other sports in high school?
I played hockey my freshman year, but I was a center and I got beat up a whole lot so I decided to just play baseball. I also had taken to swimming as a young kid.

So did you enjoy the Blackhawks finally winning a Stanley Cup this season after 49 years?
Yeah. I was actually here driving home from one of our games and I was on the phone with my dad trying to get the score. And he goes, “The Hawks just won, we scored in overtime!”

What went into your decision to go to Hofstra?
Their assistant coach was from Antioch (Ill.), so that was the connection there. And they play in a great conference, it’s good baseball. It’s a new program, we had 17 freshmen. I had a chance to play as a freshman and I got 25 appearances, which was good. It was the best choice for me. It wasn’t the best school academically that I could have gone to, but it has great academics. And moneywise it made sense to go there.

You had outstanding academic credentials coming out of high school having graduated summa cum laude. Where else could you have gone academically?
Stanford was recruiting me. I had the academics, but it was a matter of I wasn’t going to get money from them and it’s $50,000 (a year). And you don’t get scholarships to those type of schools, it’s all need-based. It’s hard to qualify for that.

What was your first season like at Hofstra?
It was pretty shocking at first. You go into fall and you play intrasquads and I did well. (In the spring) our first couple of series we played Troy and Florida State and I ended up starting against Florida State. That was pretty shocking to pitch against a College World Series team, one of the best teams in the country, playing in front of thousands of people. I was pretty nervous, but I just thought, “Whatever happens, happens.” (Burg pitched two innings and gave up five runs that day as FSU won 14-4.)

What did your coaches want you to work on here with the Bombers?
To get a sharper breaking ball, I’ve always had a plus-changeup. And being a lefty, you don’t necessarily need to throw 90, just keep the ball down and throw strikes. I’ve been working on a curveball this summer, getting some sharper spin on that.

What is it like living on Long Island as compared to suburban Chicago?
It’s close to New York City and I’ve lived suburban life my whole life so it’s comparable that way. The culture is a little different out East, up in New York. People are a little more upfront with you. They say what they think.

It’s almost August and you’ve played baseball most of the year. Are you tired of it?
It’s been a long year. I’ve played a lot of baseball, pretty much every day. But I’m still going at it, trying to get my lifting in and my running and throwing. You’ve got to stay sharp and get to be as good as you can be for that spring season. Every day matters out here.

Can you guys follow Major League Baseball much or don’t you have the time?
I follow the Cubs, I’m a huge Cubs fan. I’ve got my phone and I follow the Cubs.

You performed 260 hours of community service in high school, including with Hurricane Katrina Relief. What was that experience like?
We were required to do ministry at my high school, but I had done a lot of community service before that through my church. A couple of weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, we had a group from my church and we said, “Look, we’re going down.” And I thought it was a great way to help some people. It was something you don’t forget. It was a really great experience but also really tragic. Every home we saw down there was destroyed and the people were in their front yards. The water, the stench, it was pretty shocking. We just went from house to house trying to do anything we could to help.

What kinds of things did you do?

We cleared out houses that had been destroyed. Some people had just abandoned the houses. There was also a lot of tree damage and we wound up lifting trees off people’s houses. And we cleared a lot of debris.

What are your goals for life after college?
Right now, I’m a double major, physics-math major. I’m trying to get the best     education possible to go into nanotechnology.

What is that?
It’s brand new, it’s cutting edge. It’s essentially molecular-level science. It’s where science is moving. Science is moving toward the smallest forms of life that we can work with. And it’s using those elementary foundations to construct new technologies. Energywise, there’s a lot of potential. And that’s much needed now as we move toward more electrical use and different forms of energy.

Interview by Jerry DeRoche




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