Question 2 Who's This Year's Hot New Model? Once they figure out where he'll play, the Phillies hope to ride into contention on the booming belts of potent phenom-in- waiting Pat (Don't Call Him the Bat) Burrell

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

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March 27, 2000

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Question 2 Who's This Year's Hot New Model? Once they figure out where he'll play, the Phillies hope to ride into contention on the booming belts of potent phenom-in- waiting Pat (Don't Call Him the Bat) Burrell

Pat Burrell might soon be a member in good standing of a
Philadelphia Phillies Murderers' Row, but he already has made
the Audubon Society's. Burrell was guilty of involuntary bird
slaughter in the Triple A International League playoffs last
September when his towering fly destined for the short leftfield
porch at Knights Stadium in Charlotte was intercepted by an
unfortunate feathered friend. While his Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
Red Barons teammates were screaming at him to run, Burrell
remained glued to first base, unable to locate the ball. By the
time he spotted it in short left, a few feet from the splattered
bird, it was too late to advance to second. So Pat, what kind of
bird was it? "I don't know," he says. "Dead."

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

Burrell (pronounced burl) can process the location, movement and
speed of a pitch in less than the half-second that the ball
takes to reach home plate at least as well as any other player
who has hit one more bird than he has major league pitches.
Ornithology, however, is a subject with which he's not familiar.
Then again he rarely hits dying quail, generally producing
screamers to the gap and fly balls that flirt with the light
standards. Burrell was first called Pat the Bat during his three
years at the University of Miami, where as a freshman in 1996 he
led the nation with a .484 batting average, but it's a nickname
he could live without. Not that it isn't flattering--remember
Stan the Man?--but he thinks Pat the Bat lacks a certain
creativity. Burrell would be happier with something that sounds
more distinctive, like the sharp report that echoes from the
batting cage when he is taking his swings.

There has been the requisite fuss in Philadelphia this spring
over just when and where Burrell is going to be shoehorned into
the Phillies' lineup. In mid-March the team was planning to have
him start the season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and see what
develops. A former college third baseman, Burrell has spent the
exhibition season working in leftfield in case Ron Gant is
traded, and he can always shift back to first base, his primary
position in the minors, if Rico Brogna, who suffers from
arthritis in his right knee, breaks down. The fretting is
irrelevant in the long run, because Burrell's best position is
batter's box. He's athletic enough to ensure that leftfield at
Veterans Stadium won't revert to a Greg Luzinski-esque toxic
waste site, but his most compelling moments will come with wood,
not leather.

He has swapped infielder's glove for first baseman's mitt for
outfielder's glove cheerfully but has stuck to a 34-inch,
32-ounce M110 Louisville Slugger ever since he signed an $8
million contract as the first player selected in the 1998 draft.
When it comes to Pat's bats, Burrell is actually a no-tool
player. He doesn't smooth his game bats with bone or any other
hitter's hardware, preferring to simply grab one and go. "Guys
spend a lot of time working on their bat, then they break it and
it's gone," Burrell says. "If you hit the ball right, the bat'll
do fine." The 23-year-old Burrell, despite just 33 Triple A at
bats, also seems destined to do fine. "I've always enjoyed
hitting things as hard as I can," he says. "It's fun to hit
things and watch them fly."

That passion helped make him a first-grade tetherball champion
in Boulder Creek, Calif.--now there's something you don't see on
every big leaguer's curriculum vitae--and eventually led him to
punting and placekicking, in addition to playing quarterback, at
Bellarmine Prep in San Jose. Still, striking a ball with a bat
always had more appeal than using his fist or his foot. His
backyard featured an ivy-covered fence, dubbed Wrigley, which
was the venue for rousing Wiffle ball games that perhaps
provided the foundation of Burrell's ability to handle breaking

Burrell's stroke is a quick slash through the hitting zone, a
short arc for a player who is best described as strapping. He
removed the curlicues in his swing with the help of former Miami
hitting instructor Turtle Thomas, now the assistant coach at
LSU, who taught Burrell to make better use of his legs. The
righthanded-hitting Burrell can jerk a pitch to left, but right
center is his power field, an outgrowth of all the nibbling he
saw as a collegian when pitchers were wary of throwing inside
fastballs to a 6'4", 225-pounder brandishing an aluminum bat.
Perhaps the diet of outside stuff is what made Burrell patient,
at least by the standards of a young slugger. He walked 79 times
in 117 games with the Double A Reading Phillies last
season--once every 5.3 plate appearances--though he also whiffed
103 times. He batted .333 with a .631 slugging percentage, hit
28 home runs and drove in 90 runs. (He batted only .152 during
his brief stint with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.)

"The ball comes off his bat a little different than it does for
most guys," says Phillies manager Terry Francona, who got
firsthand evidence on March 10 when Burrell slammed his first
spring training homer, a shot off Pirates lefty Pete Schourek
that cleared the leftfield scoreboard and a building beyond. "He
has a chance to be a little bit special, but he's supposed to
be. He'll have to answer the same questions all young guys do
when they get to the big leagues: Can he handle the fastball in
and the breaking pitch away? How will he make the adjustments?
But it's pretty much unanimous he'll be a keeper, a guy who, if
you put him in the middle of the lineup and let him play, will
put up some pretty good numbers."

A word of warning to the flock: duck.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BILL FRAKES COMFORT ZONE Burrell is in the pink when he has a bat in his hands. It's another matter when he has a glove on his hand.