Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Interview Part 3: Dennis Burtt, Still Fun

Dennis Burtt working with kids at a youth baseball clinic in 2011. (Photo Provided)
Part 1: Got There | Part 2: Pretty Nice
Part 3: Still Fun

Coaching high schoolers can be a challenge, Dennis Burtt said recently. The challenges come with the time available. There just isn't a lot of time to work with pitchers.

But, when that limited time gets results, Burtt said, that's the rewarding part.

"If there's something that you might have mentioned to them that they go out and do and they have success, it's a pretty nice feeling to watch them," Burtt told The Greatest 21 Days recently, "and they're extremely happy, too, because they were successful. It's very enjoyable. I really like it.

Burtt was in his fifth season in 2015 as a volunteer coach at Stockton, Calif.'s Stagg High School. Burtt previously served as a coach in the minors and in independent ball. He also spent 15 years as a player, spending parts of two of those seasons in the majors.

It's those experiences as a player that Burtt helps pass along to the Stockton high schoolers, and that he hopes to pass on in the future with a return to coaching in the minors.

"When something's going a certain way, I might have gone through that before," Burtt said. "It's always nice to have somebody to be able to say 'I've been through it, this is what got me through it.'"

Burtt went through a few things in his long professional career, including a 10-year wait to make the majors. When he did get to the bigs, he got into eight games over two seasons.

He also had to work through the disappointment of getting sent back down, then getting back on track to play four more seasons in the minors. He never got back to the majors.
Dennis Burtt warming up with AAA Albuquerque. Coach Brent Strom is at right. Burtt played at Albuquerque from 1987 to 1989. (Photo Provided)
Burtt spoke to The Greatest 21 Days by phone recently from home in California. He covered his long career in the game, both as a player and since as a coach.

Burtt made his major league debut for the Twins in September 1985. He got into five games, starting two. He had a 3.81 ERA.

He then made the Twins out of spring training in 1986, but his stay was brief. He got two innings of work over three outings. He also gave up seven earned runs.

Burtt recalled always being a slow starter. It took him a while to get going. It also showed. He gave up three runs without getting an out in one game, four while getting three outs in another.

The result, Burtt said, was that he started to take everything the wrong way.

"When you get called up to the big leagues, you're there for a reason, because they know that you can pitch," Burtt said. "When I started off so slowly or poorly, you know, my mindset was I was a little down. I didn't think, because of the short period of time that I had there, that I could blow off a bad outing like (long-time pitcher Bert) Blyleven or some of the veteran pitchers."

"For me, it took me so long to get there, it was like I hadn't earned that yet, to be able to just blow off a bad outing," Burtt said. "It bothered me for a little while."

Burtt got word that the manager Ray Miller wasn't that confident in Burtt right then. Burtt wasn't displaying confidence, either. The team arrived at California mid-month. It was Burtt's home town. He didn't get into a game. Soon after, he was sent down to AAA Toledo.
Dennis Burtt, left, with Tom Selleck at winter workouts in 1988. (Photo Provided)
Burtt continued his poor pitching at Toledo. He recalls starting 1-9 there. He couldn't get anybody out. He kept trying harder and harder to get people out and he got fewer and fewer people out.

"I finally said, 'you know what, I don't care. I don't care how far you hit the ball. I don't care what happens. Here, here, hit this ball as far as you can,'" Burtt said. He was surprised at the result. "'Wow, you missed it.'"

Burtt returned to the Toledo starting rotation and he went on a run. He ended up 9-10 on the year, but he didn't get called back to Minnesota.

Burtt moved to the Dodgers and AAA Albuquerque for 1987. He stayed there three seasons without getting called up to Los Angeles.

After his second season there, he recalled playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. A coach there, Luis Isaac, worked for the Indians and tried to get Burtt to sign with them for 1989. The offer was slow to come. Burtt took the sure-thing offer from the Dodgers.

The next winter, Burtt ran into Isaac again. All Isaac could do was shake his head, Burtt recalled. The Indians had so many injuries, Burtt would have been a lock to return to the bigs. Instead, Burtt spent the year again at AAA.

"That was a decision that I would have to say was a bad decision on my part," Burtt said.
Dennis Burtt, second from the left, as a coach with the independent Bend Bandits. He coached for Bend in 1995 and 1996. (Photo Provided)
His playing career wound down in 1990, playing at AAA with the Tigers. Released mid-season, Burtt started his coaching career back with the Dodgers in the rookie Gulf Coast League.

"It was hard the first couple years, of course," Burtt said, "because I could still throw."

He recalled it taking a little while to switch gears. He also had to figure out how to help pitchers. He'd always been fortunate to have good mechanics. As a coach, he had to break down others' mechanics.

He spent two years with the Dodgers in the GCL, then spent a year in the Florida State League as a coach for the co-op Miami Miracle. He also spent two years at AA with the Red Sox.

Burtt then rounded out his career as a coach for independent Bend and Madison. Team injuries and illnesses at Bend in 1996 even led him to getting activated. "It was fun to be back out on the field throwing again," Burtt said.

After Madison, Burtt returned home to his wife and two daughters. They settled in Stockton, his wife's hometown. He and his wife have been married for 32 years. He also spent time looking after his father, who also moved to Stockton.
Dennis Burtt wearing at a youth clinic in his Twins jersey. Burtt played in two seasons for Minnesota. (Photo Provided)
He's since returned to coaching in high school. He's also started to try and get back into the minors as a coach, no easy task after years out of the game.

Burtt said he loves coaching the high schoolers, but he likes the pros, too, especially coaching in the low minors.

"There's still some teaching that you might be able to do with a few of them," Burtt said of players in A-ball, "and I really enjoy that."

In the meantime, Burtt serves as a high school coach, he drives for Google Maps, works as a contractor for TransAmerica and he runs a ministry at his church.

Burtt said his time as a high school coach has allowed him to continue in the game.

"You get out on the field and it's still fun to throw the ball and work with the kids and stuff like that," Burtt said. "You miss it, no matter how old you get."

Part 1: Got There | Part 2: Pretty Nice
Part 3: Still Fun

Be sure to read Part 1: Dennis Burtt, Got There

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