HOUSTON -- Chris Burke's timing couldn't have been any better. No, not the timing on his swing against then-Cardinals right-hander Dan Haren for his first Major League hit. The timing of that first hit was perfect, though, because Burke's father, Al, was one of 29,528 at Busch Stadium to see it on Sept. 14, 2004. "When I think baseball, really, my dad's the first person that pops into my mind," Chris Burke said.
Chris had plenty of chances during the '04 season to get that first hit. He played in 17 games and had 17 at-bats, but finished with just the one hit off Haren. Al couldn't make it to all 17 of those games that season, because the cost of flying from his home in Louisville, Ky., to Houston and other National League towns, quite simply, added up. He made the trip to St. Louis, though, and Chris gave him a moment they'll never forget. "My mom, my dad were there to see me get my first Major League hit in St. Louis," Chris said. "That was really special, because it was the only game they were going to be able to make it." Chris was fortunate to get in the game, he says, because right-hander Roger Clemens dominated the Cardinals through seven innings. Luckily, manager Phil Garner had Chris pinch-hit for the Rocket with a 7-1 lead. "It was going to have to be a blowout type game for me to even get in the game," Chris said. "We were playing the Cardinals, so who would have thought it? That was a neat day." Afterward, Chris dissected the at-bat with Al. They talked about the count, the pitch location and the situation. Sometimes, the conversations between Al and Chris Burke seem more like those between a coach and a player. Al was his son's first coach. He taught Chris the game, and that's simply the nature of their relationship. "We've rarely taken the time to step back and reflect," Chris said. "After the game, we weren't talking about, 'Oh my gosh, you just started a Major League Baseball game.' It was like, 'What did you think about your at-bats? What could you have done better?'" Well, the scene couldn't have been set better that day, because a father watched his son stroke a single for his first big-league hit.
Kevin Yanik is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.