Burroughs clean, clear-minded and ready to contribute

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2012 - 9:33 AM

The former top pick is stating his case to make the Twins roster, not long removed from overcoming drug addiction.

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Ron Gardenhire greeted Sean Burroughs after a victory earlier this spring. Should the Twins keep Burroughs, he would potentially be a valuable pinch hitter.

Photo: David Goldman, AP

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FORT MYERS, FLA. - The words sounded strange coming from Sean Burroughs, the overgrown kid who pitched Long Beach, Calif., to the 1993 Little League World Series title before going on TV and cracking up David Letterman.

Burroughs is fighting for a reserve infield role with the Twins this spring, and he was talking recently about the grind of being an everyday player last winter in Venezuela.

"Obviously, I felt my age," Burroughs said.

Burroughs turned 31 last September. Crazy how time flies, especially since four of those years were spent in a drug-induced haze. His was once a sad story of a first-round draft pick who reached the majors in 2002 at age 21, only to reach absolute bottom four years later.

"When I was younger," he said, "I'd give people a hard time, saying, 'Let's go hit, or go to the gym or go throw some more.'

"Now, I've got to save myself. I get hurt in my sleep; you know what I'm saying? I go to bed fine, and I wake up, like, 'Oh, my hamstring!' "

Burroughs doesn't mind laughing at himself. He considers that part of his job.

"Ninety percent of it is having fun," he said. "I see people not smiling, not having a good time when they get into the ballgame, and it kind of makes me wonder if they really enjoy it.

"I think I kind of get a mulligan because I was out of the game for a couple years, and now I'm back in, and I realize how much I missed it, how much I love playing, how much I love to have fun with the guys."

That's part of Burroughs' appeal to the Twins. He can play third base and first base. He's a lefthanded hitter who can deliver in the clutch. And he's a character.

"I always say, he's the kind of guy you wait for to show up at the ballpark because he brings some of those intangibles," said Class AAA Rochester manager Gene Glynn, who was a coach on Burroughs' team in Venezuela.

The Twins haven't had a character quite like Burroughs since 2009, when Mike Redmond was still the backup catcher. Redmond was a clubhouse favorite, and he brought on-field value, too, handling pitchers and batting .297 in five seasons.

Sometimes, Burroughs can be found in the clubhouse joking around with the Spanish-speaking players in their native tongue. He says he knows "a little bit" of Spanish, but he's practically bilingual. He studied the language in high school and even took a few classes at Southern California after signing with the Padres in 1998.

In San Diego, Burroughs was a young, charismatic figure on a veteran team.

"I looked up to guys like Trevor Hoffman, Tom Lampkin, Phil Nevin and Rondell White -- guys I played with in '02, '03 and '04," Burroughs said. "I did a lot of things the right way, and then when I found that fork in the road, I kind of just fell apart."

Burroughs had arrived in the majors with tremendous expectations. His father, Jeff, was the 1974 American League MVP for the Rangers.

But Sean Burroughs never hit for the power the scouts had hoped would come. To this day, he has hit only 12 major league home runs in 1,647 at-bats.

The Padres sent him back to the minors in 2005 and traded him to Tampa Bay the next year. After getting released in August 2006, he signed with the Mariners and played four games in Class AAA before disappearing from the sport.

Burroughs has compared those next four years to the movie "Leaving Las Vegas," and the Nicholas Cage character's efforts to drink himself to death. Burroughs has said he ingested any drug he could find. He moved to Las Vegas, slept in cheap hotels and found himself eating cheeseburgers out of a garbage can.

"One day [in 2010], I took a hard look at myself in the mirror," Burroughs told the Star Tribune this January. "I weighed at least 260 [pounds]. My hair was shaggy. My clothes were shabby. My eyes looked terrible. I said to myself, 'This isn't me. It can't be me.' "

After Burroughs got himself clean, he latched on with the Diamondbacks, batting .412 in 34 games at Class AAA before returning to the big leagues. Last season, he batted .273, not far off his .280 career average, for an Arizona club that made the playoffs one year after finishing 65-97. He went 1-for-3 as a pinch hitter in the Division Series as the Diamondbacks fell to the Brewers.

"I've got a pretty simple swing, a pretty simple approach, so it was easy for me to play once or twice a week," Burroughs said.

It's unclear if Burroughs will make the Twins' Opening Day roster. He signed a minor league deal, so the team technically could send him to Class AAA until it has an opening.

The decision could boil down to whether the Twins want to keep Burroughs or a third catcher. Burroughs went 2-for-4 with three RBI against Boston on Friday, raising his spring average to .324.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire hasn't tipped his hand, but it's clear he likes Burroughs and expects him to contribute at some point this year.

"He's a great clubhouse guy," Gardenhire said. "He knows how to play, knows how to hit. He's not trying to be Superman. He's being himself."

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