By Jourdan Rodrigue, Digital Communications Intern
Sixty feet, six inches, and 5,289 miles.
That’s how far it is from Tempe, Ariz. to Japan, plus a pitchers’ mound to home plate.
Sophomore pitcher Ryan Burr has had no issue with the first two numbers. It takes his 96 mph fastball less than four tenths of a second to reach home plate.
But Burr and ASU Baseball’s Head Coach Tim Esmay’s recent global trip from glove to glove as members of the United States Collegiate National Team took much longer than four tenths of a second. It spanned the length of a summer and took them from North Carolina to Japan and an entirely new level of appreciation for the game.
“We were a month into the season when I heard (about the selection) and I never expected it,” Burr said of his second time with Team USA. “I was so honored and excited. The Collegiate team is a big deal.”
Burr’s summer, usually reserved for perfecting a craft that earned him a 2.20 ERA as a freshman reliever in 2013 with 12 saves (breaking Arizona State’s freshman save record) became one akin to that of a jet setting international traveller. Team USA left in June to play games in North Carolina, then immediately hopped on a plane to compete halfway across the world.
“We travelled during our free time…it was almost like a musician’s tour schedule,” Burr said. “We’d wake up in the morning, take a five or six hour bus ride, play a game, take another bus ride, play another game, find a hotel, and go to sleep.”
Esmay was selected as a hitting coach and got to focus solely on Team USA’s offensive weapons, which turned out to be a cathartic and eye-opening experience.
“I made sure not to get caught up in all the things you normally get caught up in as a head coach,” he said. “It was what I’d done before (becoming a head coach). I got back to the simple joy of the game again, and I’ve changed myself and my approach for this season. I’m committed to the reason why I got into coaching—because I love baseball, and I really want to keep that joy up throughout the season.”
Both Burr and Esmay’s view of the game was a white jersey gone slightly yellow from past success and sweat and rubbed-in infield dirt. But once they got to Japan, they brushed off that dirt and saw the game through new eyes.
“When we went over to Japan the competition was crazy,” Burr said. “Just the way they play the game, it’s something you don’t see over here. It’s almost a religion. They pay such close attention to detail. It’s such a prideful country and you could really see how much pride they had when they played.”
Esmay also reveled in the self-ablution that came from watching the joy with which the Japanese players treated the game of baseball.
“I think sometimes we lose that in our rush to get to Omaha,” he said. “We sometimes forget the journey. And this year we’re going to appreciate it and how much fun it can be just getting there.”
Both Burr and Esmay agree that the international experience has helped them become more present and thankful when focusing on the season ahead and the experiences they’ll have on their path to Omaha. Burr especially has been eager to share his mindset with his teammates.
“We know we’re good and people know we’re good,” he said. “Now we have to say, ‘what does that mean?’ We have to focus more on the mental side of the game. You’ll see a difference when we get out on the field.”
So Burr will walk 100 feet from the home dugout to the mound as a starter this spring, and with each step will cherish the journey as if it were the 5,289-mile trip to the mound he took over the summer.
“It’s hard to explain it because you have to see it, but I’ve been telling the guys all about it and how we have to play like we’re lucky to be playing,” he said. “We’re playing because we love it.”