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A Long Road Back

June 21, 2007

by Scott MacDonald (originally printed in the RamblinWreck Newspaper) – Shoulder surgery. Most pitchers cringe at the sound of that prospect. Major League scouts, well they check you off the list of potential draft picks. College coaches, they understand that most do not recover from something as traumatic as that, even if the surgery is a success, mentally.

“Most of the doctors who operate on talent like that will tell you it’s 50-50 that they can get back,” Tech coach Danny Hall said.

Meet Eddie Burns. Georgia Tech right-handed pitcher for the Yellow Jackets. At 6 feet, 8 inches tall, Burns is a Major League Baseball scout’s dream. And in high school, he was. As a junior at Hiram High School, he was rated as one of the top pitchers in the state of Georgia.

“With the anticipation of getting drafted, I was not going to play football my senior year because I was the starting quarterback,” said Burns. “The coaches continued to beg me, and I finally agreed to just punt.”

Just punting was short lived for Burns. Soon the quarterback trying to fill his shoes went down with an injury and was thrown back into the role of starting quarterback.

“I don’t know how it happened,” said Burns of his should injury. “I think it happened during the football season my senior year. Something wasn’t right.”

Consistently throwing around 90 to 91 miles per hour during his junior year of high school, Burns was suddenly losing velocity. And the scouts noticed.

“My first game my senior year in baseball there were about 35 to 40 scouts with radar guns behind home plate,” said Burns. “By the third inning, they were all gone.”

Now a once devastating fastball, had turned into an average mid-80’s fastball that had everyone doubting his abilities. Throwing with a little pain was not difficult for Burns and he assumed that his fastball would return.

“It would hurt every once in a while where it would send a shocking pain down my arm,” said Burns. “But it didn’t feel like it was anything too serious.”

Burns came to campus and struggled through the fall, but still did not think anything major was wrong. Then against Miami on a Friday night during the 2005 season, Burns toed the rubber and was throwing in the 70’s.

“I actually got through the first inning because I was throwing so slow,” said Burns. “But then they got their timing and started hitting me. I finally realized something was seriously wrong.”

His father, Tom, pitched in the minor leagues for several years with Twins, Mariners, Indians and Mets, and had his career come to an end with rotator cuff surgery. The man to perform the surgery on his father, Dr. Andrews, discovered that Eddie had a torn labrum and it was repaired 18 months after the injury.

“It was a long and tough road to recovery ,” said Burns. “I still was not throwing well in 2006 and did some research and found out that it takes about a year-and-a-half to completely come back from that.”

When throwing with a hurt arm a pitcher may sometimes try and find an arm slot that does not hurt the arm as bad, which in turn creates problems with your mechanics. Something that Burns feels he did during his senior year and summer season before coming to Tech.

“I had to learn how to pitch again,” said Burns about his comeback. “I was screwed up mechanically and I worked out with my old summer team the East Cobb Yankees, and coach James Beavers helped me get back to basics.”

Now, Burns is helping the Yellow Jackets turn their season in the right direction. After a difficult start, Burns started making quality starts in mid-week games and posted a 3-1 record and team-low 2.33 earned run average. Now, Burns has pitched himself into the weekend rotation against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.

“It’s gratifying because I was offered a medical hardship option before this year, which the school pays for your classes, but you cannot play baseball,” said Burns. “I looked at transferring, but decided that I had something to prove at Georgia Tech so I came back.”

Which tells you why this strong-willed pitcher from Hiram, Ga., has been able to have the success he’s had. Most pitchers would shut down mentally, and not make the efforts that Burns has put forth to return to the mound. But then again, Burns is not done proving people wrong. Next up, MLB scouts.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I started playing baseball,” said Burns. Who knows, maybe that will be realized as well. Only time will tell, but the smart money is on yes.


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