On Wednesday, Dec. 18, Mr. Burke proved those naysayers wrong 50,000 times over.
At 5:30 p.m., Josh Lee, a 15-year-old Bristol resident who attends Mt. Hope High School, arrived at East Bay Baseball Academy on Gooding Avenue as he’s done since he was 8 or 9 years old. He stepped into one of the batting cages to work on his swing technique.
Mr. Burke set a baseball on top of a tee and critiqued Josh’s stance, swing and follow through, marking Mr. Burke’s 50,000th lesson since he opened the academy.
He’s a great teacher,” Josh said.
Of the tweaks that Mr. Burke has worked on with Josh over the years is his hand position.
“I always held my hands too close to my body,” he said.
For Mr. Burke, his love of baseball leans more toward teaching the game than playing it. After playing for Eckhardt College and a stint in an independent league, he found that his niche was teaching.
“Somebody asked me to help their kids,” he recalled a conversation over a decade ago. “That’s how this place started.”
The first facility was located on Buttonwood Street in Bristol. It was little more than a garage with no bathroom facilities.
“One lesson became 50 lessons. There wasn’t an idea that it would become a business. They told me I’d be closed in six months,” he said.
Even though Mr. Burke said there was no thought of making it a business, he said, “When someone tells you you can’t, you have to prove them wrong.”
Inside the Gooding Ave. facility, Mr. Burke and his staff coach between 400 and 500 kids a week during the winter. During the summer, East Bay Baseball Academy sponsors the AAU league, East Bay Bulldogs baseball and softball teams, giving players an opportunity to test their skills in a league more challenging than town Little League programs.
Besides the players parents, said Mr. Burke, “I’m their biggest fan.”
To commemorate Mr. Burke’s 50,000th lesson, he presented Josh with a framed, Dustin Pedroia jersey. A Boston fan, Josh already had the spot for it.
“It’s going right next to his Boston Bruins jersey,” Josh’s father, John, said.