While some of the fans at Busch Stadium who stood for Albert Pujols’ second-inning at-bat on Thursday against the Nationals sat back down after the slugger grounded out, one man made sure to stay standing for the player due up next.
With his phone in hand to record the moment, Jason Burleson, father of recently promoted outfield prospect Alec Burleson, watched from the stands behind the visitors dugout as his 23-year-old son drew a four-pitch walk in his first big-league plate appearance.
“I figured he’d come out there swinging trying to hit one over the fence, but he got a four-pitch walk,” Jason said shortly after Alec’s first trip to the batter’s box. “And I’ll take that any at-bat, whether it’ll be his first or last of the season. I’ll take that.”
Although Betty Burleson, Alec’s mom and Jason’s wife of nearly 25 years, could not make the trip from North Carolina to St. Louis because of work conflicts, Jason relished in the thrill of his son’s career milestone.
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It led to congratulatory messages from fans sitting near him and video of his son’s latest milestone in his baseball journey that began when Alec was about 5 years old, playing in CoulOak Little League in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Just to have your kids achieve their lifelong dream, you know, putting in the hard work to get to this point, I guess it’s a feel-good feeling for me and my wife to know that, hey, we kept them on the right path,” Jason said.
Alec Burleson’s arrival to the big leagues comes in a year where he batted .331, collected 143 hits and drove in 87 runs in 109 games for Class AAA Memphis — all of which were International League highs at the time of his promotion.
“I’ve felt good the whole year,” Burleson told reporters prior to making his first MLB start. “There were a couple of stretches where I didn’t feel as great. I was able to get through those and maintain what I had. I was happy with what I did and obviously looking forward to carry that here.”
The left-handed-hitting outfielder was chosen by the Cardinals as the 70th overall pick in the shortened 2020 MLB draft. He was taken after a trio of high school prospects who are now Cardinals top prospects in recently converted outfielder Jordan Walker (21st overall pick), shortstop Masyn Winn (54th) and right-handed pitcher Tink Hence (63rd).
Burleson is the first of the Cardinals’ seven 2020 MLB draft picks to make his major-league debut.
“When you first get drafted, you’re not thinking you’re going to make it to the big leagues in not even two years,” Burleson said after the game Thursday. “You’re not thinking about that, but you know, I’m just happy to be here.”
Being drafted out of East Carolina University gave Burleson a head start in his journey to the majors compared with the players the Cardinals selected before him.
The 23-year-old was a two-way player in college, batting .331 with an .883 OPS in 130 career games. When COVID-19 cut college sports seasons short in March 2020, Burleson used the break to focus more on the aspect of his game that made him one of the most consistent hitters in Class AAA.
“I think having that time off and being able to focus as a hitter, being able to focus on that, that’s what’s gotten me here. ... Not having to pull double duty,” he said.
When the minor leagues resumed in May 2021, Burleson made his first stop in the Cardinals system with Class High-A Peoria to begin . He played in 11 games for Peoria before moving to Class AA Springfield by the middle of May 2021.
And after showing consistent numbers in his first two stops, Burleson found himself in Class AAA Memphis by the end of the 2021, where he finished the season. Across all levels, he clubbed 22 homers, drove in 76 runs and posted .270/.329/.454 slash line in 119 total games.
Now that he has reached the majors, he looks to figure into the Cardinals’ race for the NL Central division title.
“When I’m in there, I want to be able to contribute any way I can and just keep putting at-bats together and play solid defense and, you know, help these guys out,” he said. “The main goal is obviously to win. But me personally, I want to be able to feel I helped these guys.”
Daniel Guerrero @TheDanielGuerrero on Twitter email@example.com