The 2005 Burkie Awards

Here, recognizing the craziness of a five-month, 144-game baseball season, is the first-ever edition of the Burkie Awards. The name was inspired by the since-released Australian utilityman Ben Risinger, one of the most popular Beavers in the club's five-year history, and the only player ever to routinely call me "Burkie."

The "Just When You Think You're IN, You're OUT" Award: To outfielder Adam Hyzdu, who spent the first month of the year with the San Diego Padres. Although his batting average wasn't stellar, his three-run double was the winning blow in the Pads' 5-4 victory over Colorado on May 2nd. After the game, San Diego placed him on waivers (the move had been planned before the game) and eventually sent him to Portland.

The "Just When You Think You're OUT, You're IN Award: To Hyzdu, for the news he received on July 17th. Hyzdu is 33 years old, and has spent parts of six seasons in the major leagues with Pittsburgh, Boston and San Diego—in fact, he won a World Series ring with the Red Sox, serving as Manny Ramirez's defensive replacement during September of last year, and traveling with the Sox throughout their amazing run through October. I remember my thoughts distinctly—I was walking through the parking lot of our hotel in Tacoma on the morning of July 17th, where Hyzdu was playing catch with his two young sons. His wife tended to their baby daughter nearby. I remember thinking to myself, Here's a guy with big league time and a ring. He's got to be wondering what he's doing in Triple-A, in the parking lot of the La Quinta hotel in Tacoma. That afternoon, he played right field for the Beavers at Cheney Stadium. After the game, he learned the Red Sox had re-acquired him in a trade with the Padres. Less than 24 hours later, he was playing right field for the Sox at Fenway Park.

The "Just When You Think You're IN, You're OUT" Award, Part II: To Hyzdu, who was designated for assignment and shipped to the Red Sox' Triple-A Pawtucket affiliate after appearing in just five games.

The "If I Could Only Perfect That" Award: To pitcher Mike Thompson, whose curve ball got away from him in the fourth inning on August 19th at PGE Park. Salt Lake's Nick Gorneault saw the ball coming toward his head, and ducked underneath it. The ball hit Gorneault's bat above his head, popped about 18 inches in the air, and was caught by Beavers catcher Nick Trzesniak. Inning over.

The "Did I Really Just See That" Defensive Play of the Year Award: To outfielder Kerry Robinson, who made a breathtaking over-the-shoulder catch on May 10th in Albuquerque—on the dead run, with his back to home plate, while climbing up the center field embankment at Isotopes Park.

The "Mark Twain Was Right" Award: To pitcher Brandon Emanuel, whose 5.29 ERA comes nowhere close to indicating how well he pitched this year. Emanuel started slowly, but from May 7th through August, 3rd, he was unquestionably the Beavers' best relief pitcher. Over the last month, he's had three nightmare outings where he just didn't "have it." If you factor out his seven appearances before May 7th, and those three bad outings of his nine appearances since August 4th, Emanuel's ERA in his remaining 27 games is 2.45. And in six spot starts, his earned run average is 2.25.

The "You Got What You Deserved" Award: To two interns for the Tucson Sidewinders, who had had a cup of water thrown on them from the Beavers' bullpen—a common, playful occurrence in minor league baseball when the on-field entertainment crew rides by the bullpen or dugout in a golf cart. Stunningly, the interns responded by dumping a large bucket of water on Beavers pitcher Jason Kershner—while Kershner was warming up on the bullpen mound in the top of the eighth inning last Tuesday at Tucson Electric Park. The Sidewinders fired both interns on the spot, denying them the college credits for which they had worked all summer. Kershner, unfazed, worked a scoreless eighth in the Beavers 4-3 win.

The "Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty" Award: To Beavers outfielder Ben Johnson, who hurried to Portland after being sent down by San Diego. After playing in seven games in his first career major league stint, Johnson was optioned out on July 17th. Players returning to the minor leagues are given 72 hours to report. Johnson started in left field for the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego on Sunday, and in center field for the Beavers at PGE Park in Portland on Monday.

The Superstition Award: To Johnson, who, after arriving in Portland, searched each teammate's cubicle, looking for the baseball pants he'd been wearing prior to being called up. "Hey," reasoned Johnson, "those pants have a lot of hits left in them."

The "Right Place At The Right Time" Award: To left-handed reliever Craig Breslow, who, because of a geographical quirk, got the opportunity to make his major league debut. With their bullpen depleted after their game in Philadelphia on Friday, July 22nd, the Padres were desperate for a pitcher to work some innings the next day in Philly. Problem: the Beavers were in Fresno, and San Diego's game was at noon Eastern (9 a.m. Pacific) the next day. Short of chartering the Concorde, it was impossible to get a Beavers pitcher to Philadelphia on time. Solution: the Padres' Double-A Mobile (Ala.) affiliate was much closer. Padres General Manager Kevin Towers asked his player development people which BayBears pitcher they'd recommend. Upon hearing the name "Craig Breslow," Towers said, "Who?" Breslow flew to Philadelphia, got into the game, and got five outs without allowing a run.

The "Wrong Place At The Wrong Time" Award: To left-handed reliever Jason Kershner, who likely would have gotten the call instead of Breslow had the Beavers been anywhere near a major airport.

The Joaquin Andujar Award: To Breslow, for the amazing turn of events in his career over a 13-month period. Breslow had been drafted by the Brewers in the 26th round in 2002 from Yale, where he earned a degree in molecular biochemistry. In June of 2004, Milwaukee released Breslow, and he'd never pitched above A-ball. After finishing last year in an independent league, Breslow debated whether to give baseball another shot or move on with his life. He attended the Padres' tryout camp in Peoria, Ariz., in March, and signed for the lofty bonus of $1. You read that correctly—one dollar. Surprisingly, he pitched well enough in spring training to make the Double-A club, then proceeded to post a 2.75 ERA in 40 relief appearances prior to being called-up to San Diego. In seven appearances with the Padres, Breslow has allowed two earned runs in 9.2 innings—and you can bet Kevin Towers now knows his name. All of which shows that in baseball, youneverknow.

The "Getting To Know You" Award: To Josh Barfield, Michel Hernandez, Jon Knott, Bobby Scales, Brad Baker, Brandon Emanuel and Marty McLeary, the seven Portland Beavers who were with the club all season long, without (as of yet) appearing for any other team.

The "Thanks For Everything" Award: To Beavers part-owner and special assistant Jack Cain, and his wife Mary. June 15th was the 10th anniversary of baseball's rebirth in Portland. After the old Beavers franchise left in 1993, Portland appeared dead as a baseball town. The Cains, lifelong Portlanders, showed otherwise when they moved their team from Bend to Portland for the '95 season. Twenty thousand fans showed up on opening night, June 15th, 1995, and fans continued to stream through the turnstiles for the next six seasons. It's safe to say that without Jack and Mary and their staff's vision, there would be no beautiful PGE Park, no Triple-A baseball here, and certainly no talk of someday having major league baseball in Portland.

The "Am I Really Putting My Life In This Guy's Hands?" Award: To our clueless airline pilot on a recent flight, for not taking into consideration how his terminology might sound to passengers. After boarding, we sat on the tarmac for 90 minutes in an airplane with no air conditioning, while they shuffled bags around to redistribute weight. "The plane is overweight, and we need to move some things around to create better balance," he said. Okay, fine. But then he apologized for the lack of air conditioning, saying, "We're sorry there's no A/C, but one of the engines is broken." Whereupon we all looked at each other, dumbstruck, and one passenger—perhaps the smartest of the bunch—actually grabbed her belongings and exited the plane. Turns out the "engine" he was talking about was a fan dealing strictly with the A/C, and not one of the flight engines. But, come on… what did you expect us to think? (And besides that, he bounced the landing.)

The "Thanks, I'll Pass That Along" Award: To a kid at my church, who, after attending a Beavers game, told me with all sincerity, "You're a GREAT baseball announcer." I said it was nice that he listened on the radio, at which time he gazed at me, blankly, as if I were speaking in tongues. And then I understood. "Oh," I said. "You mean the stadium announcer," and he smiled and said yes. I dutifully passed along his compliment to our public address announcer, Mike Stone.

The "Thanks, I'll Pass That Along" Award, Part II: To the fan in Sacramento who told me what an outstanding job I do—and was completely embarrassed when he found out I wasn't River Cats broadcaster Johnny Doskow.

The "Why Don't You Do It Here, Because I've Always Wanted To See One?" Award: To the four Beavers—pitcher Jack Cassel, utilityman Bobby Scales, outfielder Dustin Delucchi, and manager Craig Colbert—who are getting married during the upcoming off-season. Sadly, none of them will have home plate weddings prior to a game.

The John Waite Award: To ex-Beavers Mike Bumstead (traded to Seattle), J.J. Furmaniak (traded to Pittsburgh), Joe Gerber (sent down to Double-A Mobile), Justin Germano (traded to Cincinnati), R.D. Spiehs (traded to Seattle), and especially Ben Risinger (released), whose collective absence made the Beavers' clubhouse a slightly less fun place to be. We ain't missin' you at all.

The Welcome Home Award: To 1950-67 Beavers voice Bob Blackburn, who joined me for a broadcast on August 26th, and regaled listeners with entertaining stories of the Beavers of yore. I was honored to be in his presence, and I hope we can do it again.

The "I Guess You Had To Put That Other Guy Somewhere" Award: To Beavers second baseman Josh Barfield, who should have been the second baseman on the end-of-year All-PCL team. Barfield was aced out by Tucson's Andy Green, who had an amazing year and was named the league MVP—but who only played 64 games at second base. With two games to go, Barfield is hitting .310, has driven home 71 runs, scored 73, stolen 20 bases, and hit 24 doubles and 14 home runs. And if you've been paying any attention whatsoever to the broadcasts, you know my mantra—Barfield is the best-fielding second baseman in the league, and it's not even close. His soft, sure hands, heady play and intelligent positioning easily make up for any lack of arm strength.

The Nostradamus Award: To former Beavers pitching coach Tom Brown, now with the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno. Although they live in Florida, Tom and his wife Sandi are from Louisiana. Last year, Brownie told me, in vivid detail, exactly what would happen if New Orleans were hit by a hurricane—everything from the flooding right down to the starving and dehydrated people stranded throughout the city. Which begs the question… if our pitching coach knew this was gonna happen if a hurricane hit New Orleans, why didn't our government know, and plan accordingly?

The "Quick On Your Feet" Award: To PGE Park music and sound effects coordinator Jarrod Wronski. Omaha pitcher J.P. Howell was hit in the leg by a line drive on July 26th, and although it obviously wasn't serious, the Royals trainer dutifully made a visit to the mound. During the break, Jarrod played Chuck Mangione's 1970s instrumental hit "Feels So Good" over the P.A. system. I still think I'm the only one in attendance who got it.

Reprinted with the permission of Rick Burke, play-by-play radio broadcaster for the Portland Beavers.

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