This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2013 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Baseball Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we catch up with 2001 ALL-USA player Josh Burrus from Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.).
MORE: American Family Insurance ALL-USA Homepage
Josh Burrus is back where his baseball career began, hoping to impart what he learned in 10 years of professional baseball.
Burrus, who was an American Family Insurance ALL-USA first team infielder in 2001 from Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.), was drafted 29th overall in the first round that year by the Atlanta Braves.
Now, he’s an assistant coach for the Wildcats. He also coaches the Georgia Monarchs, a summer league team that finished third last summer in the 16-under Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series.
MORE: MLB stars in high school
“This is my third season coaching at Wheeler,” Burrus said. “I’ve always gone back here in the winter, since I started playing, to get ready for spring training. After I was done playing, it was natural to end up coaching here. I work with them on just learning the game of baseball, teaching them to go with mental approaches. I try to give a lot of things back. When I was playing baseball, you pick a lot from the older guys, little things that were overlooked.”
Burrus began his pro career with the Braves and was put on the fast track after hitting .272 with 123 stolen bases with Class A Rome of the South Atlantic League in 2004. The next year, he started the season in higher A Carolina League, before being promoted to the AA Mississippi Braves and AAA Richmond.
After hitting .315 in a five-game stint in Richmond, he was invited to the major league 40-man roster going into spring training in 2006, but couldn’t play because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
“It came to the point where I couldn't throw,” Burrus said. “It was hard for me because I had been playing well and I was kind of feeling sorry for myself. It was a pretty big setback and I feel like I could have handled it better.”
He struggled the next two seasons, mostly at AA Mississippi, pulling an oblique muscle in batting practice and not hitting better than .213. He was released by the Braves following the 2007 season.
Two years later, in 2010, he was hitting .282 for the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs, an independent team, when the Detroit Tigers signed him to a one-year deal and sent him to club’s AA affiliate in Erie, Pa. He hit only .217 and was released after 59 games. He finished out the season, hitting .277 with 37 RBI with two independent teams, the St. Paul, Minn. Saints and the Schaumburg, Ill. Flyers, before retiring.
“At that point, I had a family that I missed (he has boy-girl 4-year-old twins, Brock and Brynna) and I got tired of the 10-hour bus rides,” Burrus said.
Five of the players on the 2001 ALL-USA team are still playing in the majors: Joe Mauer, David Wright., J.J. Hardy, Casey Kotchman and Gavin Floyd. Burrus said injuries were only part of the reason he never made it to the majors.
“Injuries played a part in it because I got hurt when everything was going good,” Burrus said. “That was disappointing, but there were things I felt like I could have done as a younger player that could have helped me. Off the field, I could have been more mature in some of the choices I took. I needed to be more disciplined in the game.”
Burrus said he hopes to steer players who may be headed in the wrong direction.
“When I see kids going down the same road, I try to share with them some of the things I’ve done,” he said. “It's very easy to get off track, to lose what your goal is. If this is the goal you have, you have to put everything you have into this game.”
Burrus said he still gets calls from independent teams and it’s difficult for him to watch major league baseball.
“There's definitely times I think I should be out there playing,” he said. “God has a purpose for everybody in life. Maybe that wasn't the destiny for me. Maybe it is to teach these kids. That's been a big thing for me. I enjoy watching the kids.”