While Scotty Burcham was warming up with one of his Single-A Asheville Tourists teammates 10 minutes before an Aug. 8 baseball game in Lexington, he didn’t quite understand why manager Warren Schaeffer asked him if he was Jewish.
“I said yes, but I thought that was kind of a random question to ask before a game,” Burcham said. “He told me to come and talk to him after the game.”
Once the two spoke after the game, Burcham learned his Jewish heritage, along with his recent success as a shortstop on the baseball field, had spurned attention from the future Rockies Double-A manager Jerry Weinstein, who will be managing the Israeli national baseball team in next month’s World Baseball Classic held in six locations across the globe.
Weinstein wanted Burcham on his team, and without a second thought, Burcham said yes.
“I’m in the minor leagues and hoping to become a big leaguer one day, but the World Baseball Classic is something I’ve watched since it started, and I never thought I’d be playing in this tournament – especially for the Israeli team who hasn’t ever qualified before,” Burcham said. “It’s something really special. I kinda get to experience what it’s like to be in the major leagues.”
Burcham played and shined in the team’s qualifying efforts in Brooklyn in September. In a four-team double-elimination tournament with squads from Great Britain, Pakistan and Brazil, Burcham’s teammates beat the Brits 5-2, then Brazil 1-0 in a tight semifinal matchup before trouncing Great Britain once more 9-1 to earn one of the 16 spots.
Rosters were officially announced for the 16 teams Wednesday, and Burcham becomes the first Coachella Valley baseball player to play in the WBC, according to Palm Desert coach Darol Salazar.
The former Palm Desert High School standout will head to the Rockies’ headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Feb. 13 while the facility is open before spring training begins to get in some extra workouts. The Israeli team will practice together Feb. 24-27 before flying to San Francisco on Feb. 27 en route for Seoul, South Korea. The team’s pool play games will be played Mar. 6-8 in Asia against South Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands.
Along with playing and learning from a new set of teammates in a completely new time zone, Burcham said he’s excited to play for and gain knowledge from Weinstein, who hopefully will become the former Sacramento State player’s manager should he be called up to Double-A in pursuit of his first chance in the MLB.
“Jerry has been with the Rockies for a while, but I hadn’t met him until the qualifier, but I think he’s one of the best baseball minds in the country,” he said. “Being able to be there and pick his brain with what he’s been through in the game will be a great opportunity for me.”
Burcham was a four-year starter for the Aztecs and won a CIF Southern Section title during his junior season with a Division 4 championship victory over Torrance 9-0. He was named the game’s MVP. His senior season, he hit .371 while scoring 30 runs, recording 29 RBIs and hitting nine doubles and five homers while leading Palm Desert back to the CIF SS finals.
He was an All-CIF selection as a junior and senior and made the All-Desert Valley League team each of his final three years.
At Sacramento State, Burcham finished with a .278 career batting average, including a .329 average his senior season, where he scored 46 runs, knocked in 33 RBIs and had 80 hits, including nine doubles, six triples and four homers.
Team Israel schedule
March 6: vs. Korea, 1:30 a.m.
March 6: vs. Chinese Taipei, 7 p.m.
March 8: vs. Netherlands, 7 p.m.