Nine years after he threw his last pitch in the big leagues, Dave Burba works every day to help young pitchers on their quest to throw their first.
The 1984 Kenton Ridge graduate is in his third season as a pitching coach in the Colorado Rockies organization. Burba, 47, spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons with the Short-Season Class A Tri-City Dust Devils and joined the Class-A Advanced Modesto Nuts this spring.
Burba’s minor league journey has mirrored his beginnings in the majors. He came up with the Mariners in 1990, and the Dust Devils play in Pasco, Wash., about three hours from Seattle. Modesto is about 90 miles from San Francisco, and Burba’s second team was the Giants.
In all, Burba pitched in 511 Major League games from 1990 to 2004 with six different teams, including the Reds and Indians. Now he’s seeing the game from the coach’s standpoint.
“I’m learning a lot,” Burba said. “Being on the other side of the field is a lot different. You don’t realize some of the things as a player that go on, some of the decisions, how they’re made. Now that I’m on the other side, I look back and I never realized some of the things they were doing to develop me into a big league pitcher. Now I’m a part of that. It’s fun. it’s hard to get the guys to realize there are steppingstones and things like that.”
Modesto has the second-best team ERA in the California League (4.08). The Rockies promoted their 2013 first-round pick, pitcher Jonathan Gray, to Modesto this week, and he’s scheduled to start tonight.
“That’ll be kind of exciting to work with him and see what he has to show off,” Burba said. “He throws 100. That’s going to be neat to see. I try to keep all the kids in perspective. They’re all potential big league pitchers. Some of them have more talent than the others.
“You never know what you’ll find from one kid to the next. Some adjust faster. Some take longer. A lot of them have raw talent, and they can out-pitch guys based on that fact. It doesn’t make them a better pitcher.”
Burba hopes to work his way up to the majors as a pitching coach. He’s also thought about managing in the minors.
“I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity if somebody said, ‘Hey, we want you to manage,’” Burba said. “I would definitely have to think twice about it. Right now I enjoy what I do.”
The California League is more player and coach friendly than some leagues because the longest bus trip is six hours. That’s a nice selling point for Burba, who remembers making 13-hour trips in the Eastern League as a young pitcher.
“You watch a couple movies, you do a crossword, and it’s over,” he said.