Every so often, a 30-something who has seen the highs and lows of professional baseball can share his experiences with youthful minor league teammates.
Third baseman Sean Burroughs recently joined the Chattanooga Lookouts with life lessons aplenty.
The son of former Atlanta Braves infielder Jeff Burroughs earned celebrity status before becoming a teenager, pitching two no-hitters in leading Long Beach (Calif.) to the 1993 Little League World Series title. He was a first-round pick of San Diego in 1998 and had four mostly good seasons with the Padres before faltering and turning to drugs and alcohol.
"When you're young, you think you're indestructible," Burroughs said this past week. "You don't think about injuries. You think about going out and trying to be the life of the party, and you're certainly not listening to people.
"Everything is going good, but when it goes south, it goes south. That's how it went for me, and I had to learn the hard way."
Burroughs arrived in Chattanooga on May 30 out of extended spring training. The 32-year-old signed in April with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his sixth organization and the third since he began his comeback bid in 2011.
He is the fifth Lookouts player since the 2010 season to have a father who excelled in the majors, joining Scott Van Slyke, Dee Gordon, Dustin Yount and Matt Wallach.
"I think it's a great asset for myself and the coaching staff to have someone who has the experience on the field and the life experience off the field with the impact of decisions we make," Lookouts manager Jody Reed said. "The opportunity for him to share those baseball and life experiences with these young players could prove to be very valuable.
"As veteran players, it's your responsibility to pass down knowledge of the game and the experiences both good and bad, and he understands that."
Burroughs was born in 1980, when his father was wrapping up his fourth and final season with the Braves. Jeff, who had earned American League MVP honors with Texas in 1974, was out of baseball after the 1985 season, and Sean's first memories of the sport were gained by attending old-timer games with his father.
The father-son tandem made headlines in the early 1990s when Jeff coached Sean's teams to Little League world championships in 1992 and '93, with Long Beach claiming the '92 title after a team from the Philippines had to forfeit due to 14 ineligible players. After the '93 championship, Sean was a late-night guest of David Letterman.
"That's kind of a distant memory," Burroughs said. "I don't know if other guys know what they did when they were 11 or 12 years old, but I don't really remember too much. I remember some of the games, but I was just going out there to have fun and play ball."
Fame was accompanied by fortune when Burroughs was the No. 9 overall pick in the '98 draft. He won a gold medal for Team USA in 2000 and made his big-league debut with the Padres in 2002.
Burroughs hit .271 with the '02 Padres, .286 in '03 and .298 in '04, but he dipped to .250 in '05 and got sent down to the minors. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder never developed the needed power at baseball's ultimate level, amassing just 12 career home runs.
After playing 37 Triple-A games with Tampa Bay in 2006 and four Triple-A games with Seattle in '07, Burroughs dropped out of baseball, having already been gripped by a life of substance abuse that led him to Las Vegas.
"I was on my own with money and a place to sleep at night," he said. "It looked good from the outside looking in."
Burroughs made a career-best $1.675 million in 2005 and signed with Tampa Bay for $1.5 million in '06, but he quickly started blowing through his money to feed his evil habits. By 2009, he was living out of nasty motels and eating discarded burgers out of garbage bins.
His father supported a road to recovery, but Burroughs said there were "multiple failed attempts along the way." Burroughs said his father does not not like to discuss his son's spiral.
At rock bottom, something finally changed.
"I was physically drained when I gave it up a few years ago, but those were the chemicals pushing me away," Burroughs said. "I still had a love for the game. I got my head on straight and realized what a dummy I had been. You only have your body for so long, and I decided to get back in baseball and see what happened."
Burroughs was given a second chance by Arizona in 2011 and hit .273 in 78 games, but he hit only one homer. He played 10 big-league games last season with Minnesota and hit just .118.
He has gotten off to a good start with the Lookouts, hitting .313 through his first six games, and Reed has been impressed by his energy and his willingness to open up.
"I've always had an open-door policy for anyone who wanted to talk about it," Burroughs said. "I've been through it, so people can listen to me and take it as in one ear and out the other, or they can take it for what it is. If I can help one person out of 500, I've done my job.
"I've learned a lot, and it's molded me into who I am today. There are regrets, but you can't switch the past. You've got to move on."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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