LEWISTON — Getting around Australia without your own transportation can be tough, so Chris Burke’s baseball experience down under was a little stunted while he was studying there last fall.
Yet Burke, Bates’ junior right fielder, was able to play a little fall ball while playing with the University of Western Australia near Perth and do what he does best: hit.
“It was good to get some swings in,” he said.
Burke didn’t get many swings in when his baseball career started at Bates. Now he is one of the top players in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
A 6-foot-1, 175 pound left-hander from Austin Prep and Andover, MA., Burke played football his freshman year and walked on for baseball. He got just six at-bats, but Edwin Thompson, an assistant coach on the football team, liked what he saw from the defensive back, and when he took over the baseball program last year, he gave Burke a shot at playing every day in right field.
“I could see in his eyes how focused he was,” Thompson said. “I knew he would be a guy that would contribute. But what he did last year was just amazing.”
Burke started the season with an 18-game hitting streak. While pitchers were trying to get a book on him, Burke was doing what he always does — swinging the bat with a purpose.
“Since I had no previous experience, there was no report on me. Pitchers just attacked me and I just swung at pitches I liked,” Burke said.
He saw a lot of pitches he liked. He went hitless in only four of 33 games and had 12 multi-hit games. He led the team in batting (.406, eighth in NESCAC) and RBIs (33) and set a new school record for hits in a single season with 52.
The numbers were impressive enough to earn Burke all-NESCAC status, but he said he isn’t trying to get anyone to notice him when he steps into the batters box.
“It’s about getting on base and if you have to hit to do it, hit the ball hard,” he said. “If you hit the ball hard, good things are going to happen.”
Good things usually happen for Burke because he has good bat control and uses the whole field, Thompson said.
“He makes solid contact every single game,” he said. “That gives him a chance to get a couple of hits every game.”
Burke continued to perfect his craft this summer, playing for the Maryland Orioles of the wooden bat Maryland Collegiate League. In 19 games, often facing Division I pitching, he batted .345 and was named an All-Star even though he had to cut his season short to go to Australia.
“I would say it really helped me with seeing so many different pitches and knowing how a pitcher will attack you in certain counts,” Burke said.
“He’s on base all the time, even when he’s not getting hits,” said fellow Bates junior Noah Lynd, who was a teammate of Burke’s with the Orioles. “And he’s putting pressure on the defense.”
Although he hits third and with occasional power in a potent Bates lineup, Burke isn’t afraid to take what the defense gives him. He’ll go the other way and leg out extra bases, or lay down a bunt for a sacrifice or a base hit. Once he gets on base, he’s a threat to steal (10 steals last season).
“He’s so team-oriented,” Thompson said. “And that’s the best part about him.”