Throwing His Weight Around

Jim Burt's fascination with muscle magazines and the weight training room is no secret. Stacking the barbell and tossing dumbbells around -at anytime of the day and for any length of time- is common for the 5-11 and 215-pound junior University of Miami baseball player.

It wasn't long after arriving in the summer of 2000 that Burt earned a reputation as the most physically gifted and powerful member of the team. His rigorous off-season running and lifting regimens have done little to stop Burt from packing on weight and being unanimously declared year after year by teammates as the Hurricanes unofficial bodyguard.

So naturally Burt could not escape recently without answering the question everybody wants to know: ‘Have you gotten any bigger?'

"No, I haven't gotten any bigger," said Burt. "I'm around 215 and I can't any bigger because remember I have to swing the bat and play a new position. I don't think Coach (Jim) Morris would appreciate that very much."

But Morris would gladly accept a banner year in the middle-of-the-line-up, a smooth transition from the right field to first base and a take-charge approach from the fourth-year player out of Allendale, New Jersey. And just for good measure Morris would have no problem with Burt emerging as a leader on a team that consists of just one senior and four returning juniors.

"We're expecting a lot of things from Jim," says Morris. "As of right now, Jim is definitely the guy we're going to be looking at to get the ball over the wall and produce some runs for us. And we're relatively a young ballclub so he is one of the guys that can bring us some leadership. He needs to step it up."

After playing in a reserve role as a freshman, Burt got his feet wet last season for what's to come by starting in 60 of 61 games in route to a .322 batting average with nine home runs and 48 runs batted in. But Morris wants more out of a player he feels hasn't reached his full potential.

"Jimmy is to hard on himself sometimes and there is nothing wrong with that," says Morris. "But he can't let his emotions get in the way of what he's trying to accomplish on the field because he's a vital part of our team."

Morris indicated at Hurricanes Media Day that having Burt elevate his play and become the cornerstone of the team could go a long way in determing whether or not Miami returns to the College World Series in Omaha after falling several outs short last season. Burt is not only being asked to supply the Hurricanes with a load of offense but he will also start the season at a position he has never played.

Burt is ready for the challenge.

"I definitely feel like I need to be more of a leader on this team," Burt says. "But I'm not worried about it. I always put pressure on myself to perform. It's just a matter of going out there and getting it done. And I truly believe I can get it done."

If anything Burt has already started earning high marks with teammates through his work ethic and desire to step into the leader's chair.

"I work out with him and I can honestly tell you the guy has a tremendous will to work. Most of the time he's the first one in and the last one to leave," says freshman third baseman and Burt roommate, Gaby Sanchez. "Anything I've asked, he's been there for me. He's been real helpful."

Rather than putting up an extra rep in the weight room or squeezing in an additional meal, Burt spent a good portion of the fall taking infield practice and learning additional tricks from assistant coach Gino DiMare in an effort to master first base. He also made it a point to mentor some of the younger players, including Sanchez, and display his leadership ability for all to see.

"I don't have a problem with being called out to be a leader," said Burt. "I relish that role because that means the coaching staff is looking for big things out of me. That's alright because they have the same expectations I have for myself."

Burt, who has played the outfield since high school, needed the crash course on the position because Morris made it clear that he would start there once the season began. At the outset Burt felt strange at a position where he had rarely visited before. But after months of repeating fundamentals and scooping groundballs, Burt feels comfortable with his new spot. The most important aspect of playing first base is getting a head start on the ball, according to Burt.

"You have to be quick. You have to have a quick first couple of steps," said Burt. "Other than that I don't see much of a difference."

The son of the former NFL Pro Bowler has also been working on shortening upon his swing in order to cutting down on his strikeouts. Although Burt stuck out just 28 times in 208 plate appearances last season he is extremely cautious about any tendencies he could eventually fall into. Burt refrained from making any projections on how many home runs or runs batted in he would have this season, only to say that he would be asset to the Hurricanes starting nine.

But Burt couldn't stay away from at least making one prediction.

"If we put it all together I'll see you guys in Omaha," said Burt.

The Hurricanes were omitted from the College World Series last year after failing to hold a lead in the ninth inning of the final game of the South Carolina Regional against the Gamecocks. But if Burt makes good on his checklist the Hurricanes could be playing deep into the month of June.

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