Gavilan Baseball: Burley can still swing it

Gavilan College's Kevin Burley, a 2008 San Benito High graduate, has enjoyed a fine return to the baseball field this season. Burley is tied for the team lead in home runs.

Kevin Burley went six years without playing the game of baseball.
He shook off the rust pretty quick. The 24-year-old Burley, a 2008 San Benito High graduate, has been downright dynamite for the Gavilan College baseball team, which is close to qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1979.
One of the feel-good stories in all of California Community College sports, Gavilan was 22-12 overall and 14-9 in the Coast Pacific Conference entering Thursday’s regular-season finale against Hartnell.
Although Gavilan’s pitching staff has been the key to its success—the Rams have held opposing teams to three runs or fewer a whopping 20 times this season—they’ve received nice production from their lineup, including Burley, who has provided the team with several clutch hits and big games.
A freshman designated hitter who also plays first base and the outfield on occasion, Burley entered the week having played in 21 of the team’s 33 games. Despite having 24 fewer at-bats than Erik Barron and 46 fewer at-bats than Bryant Cid, Burley is tied with them for the team lead in home runs, with two.
No one could’ve predicted Burley would have the season he’s having—except Burley himself. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Burley never lost confidence in his abilities to hit a baseball.
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’m pretty confident in my abilities to play baseball,” said Burley, who entered the week hitting .302 with 16 RBIs. “The game never really leaves you because I feel like I’ve been doing it my whole life. Hitting is kind of like riding a bike, but much harder obviously. You have the basic concepts down and you’re fine-tuning everything to get back into rhythm.”
Burley, who was one of San Benito’s best three-sport stars in his time there, has taken the long road back to prominence. After graduating from San Benito in 2008, Burley went on an odyssey that included stops at Gavilan, Cabrillo, San Jose City and Chaffey in Rancho Cucamonga.
During his time in Southern California, Burley spent time working in a warehouse. Burley initially had plans to play football for Chaffey in the 2012 season, but that never panned out.
However, one good thing came out of the experience.
“I was at football practice one spring and saw the baseball team playing,” he said. “I just watched, and that made me want to play baseball again.”
That’s when Burley knew he had to come back home to Hollister; after all, he does have his own batting cage at his parents’ home. Burley came back to Hollister in June 2014, setting in motion his return to the field.
Burley already knew Rams coach Neal Andrade, who previously coached at San Benito. Once Burley got enrolled and started fall ball practice and intra-squad scrimmages, he was hooked.
“Fall ball really helped me get back into the swing of things,” Burley said. “I hadn’t seen live pitching in a long time. It had been so long that I had last seen a fastball, curve or slider, that I was kind of nervous at first and didn’t know what to expect.”
Burley picked the perfect time to come back and play baseball. After a poor 2014 season, Gavilan is having its best year in decades. Burley has had some big games this season, including going 3 for 4 with three RBIs—he was a double shy of hitting for the cycle—in the Rams’ 10-5 win over Cañada College on April 14.
“I was most happy about that game because of the triple,” Burley said. “I’m a bigger guy and I don’t get down the line that fast, but that kind of showed I’m not the slow guy everyone makes me out to be.”
Burley also said he’s an underrated defensive player.
“I can play the outfield—I just don’t look as glamorous as other players doing it,” said Burley, who ranks second on the team in runs batted in and slugging percentage in conference play.
Burley comes from an athletic family; his dad, Mitch, coaches the San Benito girls basketball team and was a guard at Santa Clara University from 1985 to 1989, where he held a couple of shooting records until Steve Nash—who later became a three-time MVP in the NBA—arrived on the scene in the early 1990s.
“My dad started all four years there, and he’s way too humble about what he did there,” Kevin said. “I watched a game of his on ESPN where he jumps so high that his shoulder hit the bottom of the backboard and he misses the dunk. He was a pretty legit player.”
Burley is the oldest of four children; he also has two younger brothers and a sister, Elizabeth, who was also a three-sport standout at San Benito.
“She’s definitely a big-time athlete for sure,” Burley said. “But Jake (the youngest of the four) could turn out to be the best athlete out of the four kids.”
Burley admitted school isn’t exactly his strong suit, but he was candid and forthright, and provided refreshing anecdotes instead of the robot-like answers that many politicians and professional athletes provide nowadays.
“I hate school and being in the classroom,” he said. “Baseball is helping me get through it. I want to play baseball and I need good grades to do it, so I’m putting my full effort into school and using baseball to help me accomplish that.”
Burley said he’s earning all As and Bs this semester, and that he’s looking forward to playing again next year. But he’s hoping this season lasts for at least another month, which means Gavilan would have reached the State Final Four.
Burley has always had a solid work ethic when it came to playing sports. When Burley was in high school, the summer months were the busiest.
“There would be some days when I would be playing football at 6 in the morning, baseball from 11 to 2 and then go to Salinas to play a 6:30 summer-league basketball game. It was fun, but also a lot of work.”
In his senior year at San Benito, Burley was named the league’s Defensive Lineman of the Year. In his final at-bat against powerhouse Bellarmine in the Central Coast Section Division I playoff quarterfinals, Burley hit a home run.
Mitch was in the stands seven years ago to witness that moment, and he was in attendance when Kevin hit his first homer of the season against Chabot on March 31.
Burley said it’s been nothing but a blast to play at Gavilan this year, even if he takes some good-natured ribbing from his teammates about his age.
“I’ve been called dad before, but my nickname now is Uncle Burls,” he said. “I’m the old guy, but not super old.”
With the way Burley has been swinging the bat this season, it’s apparent he’s anything but over the hill.

Leave your comments