Two on and two out in the bottom of the last inning. The pressure doesn’t get much bigger -- especially if you’re only six.
Well, how about adding to the equation the fact that the hitter in question is suffering from a rare disorder that would not allow his body to prevent the growth of tumors.
Just the fact that Jack Burke was on the field at all was a victory. Now he had a shot at winning the championship for his Little League team.
Yeah, no pressure there at all.
I met Jack shortly before the start of that Little League season six years ago. I had coached my sons for years and loved every minute of it. What I didn’t know was that this season was going to be by far my most rewarding.
My wife told me about a little boy down the street that was signing up to play ball and suggested that I get him on my team.
I’ll admit my first thought was, “Why, is he a really good player?” That wasn’t why my wife was making the suggestion.
Jack Burke, she told me, had neurofibromatosis. My wife Nikki wanted to be sure he had a coach who would be understanding and helpful, and make sure he didn’t get stuck in right field and batting last every game.
I’ll also admit that I had reservations about, not only taking Jack on my team, but about Jack being on a baseball field at all.
Well, suggesting that I take Jack on my team was one of the greatest favors my wife ever did for me as well as for all of Jack’s teammates. He may not have been a great player, but at six he was already a tremendous human being.
Jack and his family were a gift. Jake and Elizabeth Burke and their other two children, Luke and Gracie,
(great ballplayers in their own right) became friends. It was great having all of them as part of the team.
You quickly learn that happiness on the Little League ballfield is about being involved with good kids and good families. Jack and his family would have a lasting impact on me as a person.
Here was a kid who looked different, his face swollen from a tumor above his eye. He was small. No, I was always small, but Jack was even smaller than an average small kid. And because of his condition he was weak.
My guess is Jack’s vision also suffered because of NF. And here he was trying to do something that even the best in the world fail at seven out of the 10 times they try.
Jack came to every practice and game with a smile on his face. He worked hard. He improved. And, just as importantly, he was a great teammate. He was a player any coach would be proud to have on his team. He was a joy to coach.
So, two on and two out and it’s the bottom of the final inning in the championship game. I walked up to Jack and whispered something in his ear. Honestly, I have no idea what I said. I only know I did it because his dad, Jake, remembers that I did it.
I don’t think it mattered much what I said though, Jack already knew what was going to happen.
Base hit! Run, score! Little League Champions!
Yes, sometimes the endings are just like the movies.
Fast forward to 2017. I now live hundreds of miles from the Burke family. They are in Georgia, where that “Greatest of All Time” Little League Championship game took place. I live in DFW.
I still keep in touch with the family. I keep up on Jack’s progress through his website and foundation, Cure NF with Jack (www.CureNFwithJack.com). And if you’re ever in need of a good cry, read some of his dad’s blogs on that site. Jake is not only an exemplary human being, working to help his son and others like him, but he is also an exceptional writer. They inspired me to reach out to the NF community here in Texas. I’ve done several stories and helped out with some charitable events as well.
Now I’m taking it to the next level. And it’s long overdue.
This year NBC 5 is teaming up with the Children’s Tumor Foundation and Baseball Nation Texas to raise money to help Jack, and other kids like him, all over North Texas.
“End NF with NBC 5” is a youth baseball tournament that will take place June 24-25 in North Texas at fields all across our area.
Already more than 150 teams are expected to participate. But there is plenty of room for more.
Is your kid on a team? Do you know someone whose kid plays on a team? Tell them to head to baseballnationtx.com and sing up for the big event!
A portion of all the entry fees with go to CTF. And there are more ways to help. You can make a donation here; https://join.ctf.org/nbc5. And the weekend of the event there will be a raffle with items like suite nights at the Stars and Mavericks up for grabs. And there will be other ways to contribute.
I’m so excited to have teamed up with CTF and Baseball Nation Texas for this event. I’m excited to have an opportunity to return the favor to Jack Burke. That 6-year-old boy did more for me than he’ll ever know. The way I see it this is the least I could do for him.
After our first tournament meeting to discuss the event, I said, “Hopefully this will be the first annual of many.” I quickly caught myself and corrected, saying, “hopefully we won’t have to do that many before we find a cure.” Come on out and play some ball and help us out.