Tag: gary burnham

Baseball Bloodlines: The Burnham Brothers

The Burnham brothers are two of the best all-time ballplayers from South Windsor, Connecticut. Gary Burnham Jr. and Brett Burnham are sons of Deborah and Gary Burnham Sr. After outstanding amateur careers, the Burnham’s became minor leaguers who greatly enhanced Connecticut’s baseball reputation. Separated by six and a half years, the brother duo was heavily influenced by their grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. and their uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. both of whom also played minor league baseball.

L to R: Gary Burnham Jr., Ralph Giasanti Sr. and Ralph Giansanti Jr. – painted by Gary Burnham Jr.

Gary Burnham Jr.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 13, 1974, Gary Burnham displayed athletic promise from an early age. At 15, he was a left-handed prospect who swatted a .500 batting average for American Legion Post 133, South Windsor. To develop his skills against more experienced players, Gary also competed in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League in between his legion schedule. As a young teenager, he manned the outfield and filled in at first base for the Moriarty Brothers franchise, directed by revered player-manager Gene Johnson.

Gary Burnham (kneeling, 2nd from left), American Legion Post 133, South Windsor, 1989.
Gary Burnham, South Windsor American Legion, 1990.

Gary graduated from South Windsor High School where he earned four varsity letters in baseball and football. He captained South Windsor baseball to the Class-L State Championship in his senior year and was named All-Conference, All-State and All-American along with Gatorade’s CT High School Player of the Year. Gary also captured the Hugh Greer Award as Outstanding Athlete of South Windsor’s Class of 1993. He was then drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 22nd round of the 1993 Major League Baseball Draft but instead, Gary chose to accept an athletic scholarship to Clemson University in South Carolina. 

Gary Burnham projected as high draft pick, Hartford Courant excerpt, June 3, 1993.
Gary Burnham named state’s best, 1993.

As a freshman at Clemson, Gary started in left field and batted fifth and Clemson was ranked first in the nation during most of the 1994 season. In 1995, he spearheaded a College World Series run and achieved All-ACC and All-American honors. He walloped a .344 batting average and ranked second in NCAA Division-I with 27 doubles. That summer, the Orleans Cardinals of the Cape Cod Baseball League tapped Gary to play in Massachusetts. After a formidable performance, he was selected to the 1995 Cape Cod League All-Star Game at Boston’s Fenway Park and secured MVP of the game.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Clemson University, 1994.

In 1996, Baseball America ranked Gary Burnham as the 56th “Best College Prospect” and 3rd Team Preseason All-American. He took Clemson to their second College World Series appearance and was voted to the All-ACC team. The Oakland A’s selected Gary in the 40th round of the 1996 MLB draft though again, he did not sign. Gary returned to the Cape Cod League with the Falmouth Commodores in the summertime. During his senior year, Gary led the Tigers in almost every offensive statistic and earned the team’s Most Valuable Player award. He hit .391 with 15 home runs, 82 RBI, 106 hits and concluded his college career by setting the program’s doubles record (77).

Gary Burnham trots home after walk-off homer against University of Alabama, 1996.

For a third time Gary was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies organization in the 22nd round of the 1997 MLB Draft. It was the start of a fourteen year professional career highlighted by eleven years in the minors and four years in Asia. Gary got his start in rookie ball on the Batavia Clippers of the New York-Pennsylvania League and led his club in base hits, batting average and total bases. In 1998, he was promoted to High-A ball with the Clearwater Phillies alongside Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell. Gary crashed a .296 batting average with 33 doubles, 10 triples and 93 runs, while leading Florida State League first basemen with a .994 fielding percentage.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Clearwater Phillies, 1998.

Gary won another promotion to the Double-A Reading Phillies in 1999, where he split time between first base and outfield. He compiled 12 home runs and 49 RBI over 116 games, though his batting average slumped to .249. The next season, Gary bounced back, hitting .268 with 28 doubles for Reading. In 2001, he suited up for a third season with Reading and hit .318 with 25 doubles and 15 homers. He had the best average in the Phillies farm system, which was third-best in the Eastern League.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Reading Phillies, 2001.

After five seasons with the Phillies organization, Gary ended up being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during Spring Training of 2002. The Blue Jays gave the 27-year-old his first shot at the Triple-A level with the 2002 Syracuse SkyChiefs. Gary had a career year, hitting .281 with 151 base knocks, 34 doubles, 17 home runs and 88 RBI. He paced Syracuse in RBI and was chosen as the team’s MVP. He also led the Blue Jays organization with 238 total bases, was third in the International League in RBI and had the most assists among all first basemen.

Gary Burnham (right) and teammate, Kevin Cash, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2002.

In 2003, Gary served as Toronto’s Triple-A backup plan for their star first baseman, Carlos Delgado. Gary carved out a .269 batting average for Syracuse with 9 home runs in an off-year. He then split the 2004 season between the St. Louis Cardinals’ Memphis Redbirds affiliate (.292 in 35 games) and the Cincinnati Reds’ Louisville Bats club (.261 in 69 games). In 2005, the 30-year-old southpaw played for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish. He led his team in runs (75), doubles (32), home runs (18) and RBI (84). Gary finished second in the Atlantic League with a .320 batting average. He was saluted with All-Star honors and awarded team MVP of the Bluefish.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2003.

Gary started the following season with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. He began the year batting .319 over 19 games and played well. The Philadelphia Phillies took notice and signed Gary to another minor league contract on May 23, 2006. He went on to clobber a .341 batting average in 80 games for the Double-A Reading Phillies with 16 homers and 60 RBI. He was recognized as a Topps National Player of the Month for hitting 10 dingers in August. Despite missing about a month of the season, Gary achieved the Triple Crown in the Phillies farm system and set the Reading Phillies career home run record (56).

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Reading Phillies, 2006.
Paul Galloway and Gary Burnham (right) at Clemson Alumni Game, 2006.

At the end of 2006, the Phillies called him up to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Gary had a torrid hot stretch hitting .391 average, 9 runs and 8 RBI in 10 games. It was clear that he was a major league caliber player, but the Phillies had 2006 MVP Ryan Howard at first base. Gary remained in Triple-A in 2007, starting at designated hitter, first base and outfield for the Ottawa Lynx of the International League. After batting .292 with 12 home runs, 35 doubles, 84 RBI and a league-best on base percentage, Ottawa dubbed him team MVP.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Ottawa Lynx, 2007.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Ottawa Lynx, 2007.

After concluding his minor league career in the United States, Gary welcomed new opportunities from abroad. In the off-season, he made appearances in the Mexican Pacific Winter League and the Dominican Winter League. Then in 2008, Gary signed a contract with the La New Bears of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. Over a total of 70 games for the Bears, he batted .323 with 10 home runs and 56 RBI. At 33 years old, he set a league record among foreign-born players by hitting in 23 consecutive games.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, La New Bears, 2008.

Gary parlayed his Taiwan season’ into a role in Japan. He joined the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball, managed by Bobby Valentine. In a game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Gary hit a game-winning homer off of future New York Yankees pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka. Gary was also selected to team Italy’s preliminary roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but he did not compete in the tournament. However in 2010, he inked his last professional deal with the Godo Knights of the Italian Baseball League, ranking top ten in most offensive categories.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary with his wife, Rachel Burnham in 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.

Gary retired from professional baseball at 35 years old. In total, he amassed 155 home runs, 856 RBI, a .293 career batting average and a .375 on base percentage. He was also an underrated defender; in 662 minor league games, he maintained a .992 fielding percentage with only 51 errors. Gary was named an all-star at every minor league level and received three team MVP awards. In 2010, the Reading Phillies named him to the All-Decade team. Then in 2016, the Reading Phillies inducted Gary Burnham into the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame in the same class as Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell.

Gary Burnham accepting his induction into Reading Phillies Hall of Fame, 2016.
L to R: Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Gary Burnham, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell – Reading Phillies Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

During his professional career, Gary spent several off-seasons as a substitute teacher and a baseball instructor in the Greater Hartford area. In 2018, he helped to establish the South Windsor Phillies franchise in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Nowadays, he gives private and group lessons as owner of Gary Burnham Baseball Instruction in South Windsor. He works in surgical device sales as National Accounts Manager of Vanguard Medical while operating a real estate investment business, GRB Properties LLC. Gary lives in South Windsor with his wife Rachel and their three children.

Gary Burnham reunites with Bobby Valentine at a World Series Club event, West Hartford, Connecticut, 2017.

Gary Burnham sets Reading Phillies career home run record, 2006.

Brett Burnham

Born January 1, 1981, Brett Burnham was a tough kid and natural athlete who began his teenage years by overcoming cancer. At the age of 13, Brett made his first appearance on the national stage with the Connecticut Mariners at the 1994 AAU National Tournament in West Des Moines, Iowa. Brett was named Most Valuable Player after hitting a grand slam and pitching four hitless innings in relief to win the championship. His head coach was longtime AAU contributor, Bob Hetu. The following year, Brett smashed a three-run homer and was the driving force to another AAU national title run in Cocoa, Florida.

Brett Burnham (3rd from right) and the Connecticut Mariners win AAU National Title, 1994.
Brett Burnham earns MVP award and AAU National Title, West Des Moines, Iowa, 1994.

Brett attended South Windsor High School where he started all four years on the baseball and football teams, like his brother Gary. He was named to the Class-LL All-State team, compiling a .474 batting average with 6 home runs and 20 stolen bases as a sophomore. During the summers, Brett was key to the South Windsor American Legion baseball team (1995-1998) and was twice named to the Connecticut all-star team. In July of 1997, Brett was scouted by the Boston Red Sox at Yale Field to compete in the Area Code Baseball Games in San Diego, California.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, South Windsor High School, 1996.
Brett Burnham (standing, center with striped uniform), Class-LL All-State Team, 1997.

In the summer of 1998, Brett Burnham joined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. He was a rookie on Newman Lincoln-Mercury, the franchise formerly known as Moriarty Brothers. As a 17 year old, Brett improved his game in the GHTBL while leading the South Windsor American Legion team to their second straight Zone 8 title. In 1999, he batted a whopping .649 average during his senior year at South Windsor High School. He earned All-Region honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association for his high school season. After winning GHTBL’s 1999 Season Title with Newman Lincoln-Mercury, Brett traveled south to attend Auburn University.

Brett Burnham featured in Hartford Courant, June 30, 1999.

As a freshman, Brett guarded third base for the Tigers, slashed .268, scored 28 runs and drove in 33 RBI with 9 doubles and 2 home runs. In early 2000, Brett was selected by the newly established Manchester Silkworms of the New England Collegiate Baseball League that summer. The following year at Auburn, he batted .275, scored 31 runs, stole 28 bases with 11 doubles and 22 RBI. Brett wanted a bigger role and an opportunity to get drafted going into his Junior season. Wanting greater responsibility and to be closer to home, Brett transferred to University of Connecticut in the fall of 2001.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, Auburn University, 2001.
Brett Burnham plays for the Manchester Silkworms, 2000.

Under the tutelage of Head Coach Andy Baylock, Brett played shortstop for the Connecticut Huskies. In 2002, he raked .335 with 14 doubles, 6 home runs, 49 RBI and led NCAA Division-I with 32 hit by pitches. For his terrific season, Brett was honored with a 2nd Team All-Big East Conference nod. He played in the GHTBL that summer as shortstop for Mr. G’s franchise – named for Brett’s grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. The club was sponsored by his uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. and former big leaguer, Ricky Bottalico. Brett helped Mr. G’s win the 2002 GHTBL Season Title, while collecting the 2002 Herb Sheintop Player of the Year Award.

Brett Burnham drafted by San Diego Padres, 2003.

After serving as captain during 2003 season at UConn, Brett as was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 21st round of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft. He went west for rookie ball in the Pioneer League. As a second baseman on the Idaho Falls Padres, Brett performed well over 50 games, leading the team in on base percentage and doubles while batting for a .290 average. At 23 years old, he was promoted to Single-A with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League. During that 2004 season Unfortunately, Brett broke his hand in a Spring Training game. He returned six weeks later and in the first game back, broke his hand again. Brett was released and retired from professional baseball in 2004.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, Eugene Emeralds, 2004.
Eugene Emeralds logo, 2004.

Eventually, Brett rejoined the GTHBL aboard Mr. G’s franchise once again. He led the league in stolen bases during the summer of 2005. When Mr. G’s disbanded, he reunited with his former manager, Gene Johnson, who headed the Foss Insurance team (previously called Newman Lincoln-Mercury). By the end of his twilight career, Brett was a 3-time batting champion with three home run titles, seven RBI titles, four stolen base titles and a Triple Crown season in 2010. Brett was a 4-time MVP, a 5-time Player of the Year and a GHTBL All-Star nearly every year. His final baseball season was in 2011, when Brett received a special honor as GHTBL Player of the Decade.

Brett Burnham, Shortstop, Foss Insurance, 2009.

In 2015, Brett and his wife, Cristi Burnham were both inducted into the South Windsor High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Together they founded Happy’s Nutrition in South Windsor, offering shakes, smoothies and teas using Herbalife products. Brett has pivoted from corporate America to full-time Herbalife entrepreneur with Cristi, and they have reached the top one percentile of sales. Brett and Cristi were high school sweethearts where it all began, in South Windsor. They now have four children and reside in Ellington, Connecticut.

Brett and and his wife, Cristi Burnham, Happy’s Nutrition, South Windsor, Connecticut, 2018.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. BR Bullpen – https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Gary_Burnham
  3. BR Bullpen – https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Brett_Burnham

Ron Pizzanello, A Baseball Life

In 1977, former star catcher at Bulkeley High School and Eastern Connecticut State University, Ron Pizzanello, signed a professional baseball contract. He did so with the Colombo Nettuno team of the Italian Baseball League (now known as Serie A1). At the time of his signing, Pizzanello played for the Vernon Orioles of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League managed by Frank McCoy. After playing in Italy, he returned to the Vernon Orioles franchise as the team’s backstop.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1977.
Ron Pizzanello (#12) and Colombo Nettuno teammates, 1977.
Ron Pizzanello, Catcher, Vernon Orioles, 1985.
Hartford Courant excerpt, June 12, 1987.

After a battle with diabetes that claimed both of his lower legs, Pizzanello has persevered. He was a successful American Legion baseball for South Windsor in the 1990’s and 2000’s. In 2018, Pizzanello came back to the GHTBL as manager of the South Windsor Phillies franchise. Also supporting the team with Pizzanello is Reading Phillies Hall of Fame inductee, Gary Burnham Jr who serves as the team’s General Manager. The team’s sponsor is Tony Desmond of Allstate Insurance – South Windsor.

Diabetes forces Pizzanello to end his playing career, 1990.
2018 South Windsor Phillies

GHTBL Career

  • West Hartford Merchants, 1974
  • Vernon Orioles, 1975
  • East Hartford Merchants, 1976
  • Vernon Orioles, 1978 – 1989
  • South Windsor Phillies (Manager), 2018 – present
Ron Pizzanello, Manager, South Windsor Phillies, 2019.
Ron Pizzanello, Manager, South Windsor Phillies, 2019.

Awards & Accomplishments

  • Little League Connecticut State Champions, Hartford All Stars
  • All City Baseball Catcher, Bulkeley High School, 1971-72
  • All Conference, Bulkeley High School, 1971-72
  • Captain Bulkeley Varsity Baseball
  • All-Conference Wrestler, Second Team
  • Received a degree from Eastern Connecticut State University
  • Starting varsity catcher, ECSU Baseball, 1974-76
  • Elected Captain, ECSU Baseball, 1976
  • All-New England Second Team Catcher, ECSU Baseball, 1976
  • Inducted into the Bulkeley High School Hall of Fame, 2017
  • 2020 GHTBL Regular Season Title
GHTBL meeting with Ron Pizzanello (standing, right), 2018.

World Series Club Features Bobby Valentine

Bobby V reminiscences about baseball in West Hartford.

Stamford, Connecticut, native Bobby Valentine has not been following baseball as much this past couple of months due to his nonstop busy schedule, however, he made time to visit West Hartford to speak to the World Series Club about the common passion everyone in the room shares: baseball.

“This is the baseball time of the year. Some people here love the sport of baseball and they asked if I can come up and I said absolutely. For a free meal I’d do anything,” Valentine said with a grin. “I just wanted to get into the game with the crowd and answer their questions about what we all love and it’s the game of baseball.”

Valentine, 67, was introduced by his former player, Gary Burnham Jr., who played under Valentine in 2009 in Japan. To this day, both men remain close and, for Burnham, it was a no-brainer to introduce his former manager.

“I built a great relationship with him and now he’s just really a great friend,” Burnham said. “I am just super happy to be here and it’s an honor for me to introduce such a great guy.”

This is not the first time Valentine has spoken to the organization; he has made two prior visits in the 1970s and ’80s. However, baseball was different then and he is intrigued to see the new direction MLB is taking with the implementation rules to speed up place.

“I think the game should be quicker,” Valentine said. “You know all these mound visits are probably going to be the things of the past and all we have to do is have the younger generation understand the competition.”

Valentine says during his managing career, he did not believe in mound visits and had his pitching coach go to the mound to speak to his pitchers. If Valentine had to count, he says he probably made 10 mound visits during his professional managerial career.

Valentine, like other baseball junkies, is also looking forward to the new Yankees slugging tandem of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and the potential of what the two sluggers can produce. The Connecticut native also expects the new Yankee skipper Aaron Boone, who he worked with for two years at ESPN, to excel under pressure in New York.

On the other side of the Boston/New York rivalry, Valentine expressed mixed feelings on the Red Sox signing J.D. Martinez.

“Well, I think if he is healthy, he is the necessary piece to that puzzle. I think if he was left-handed he’d fit a lot better than him being right-handed,” Valentine said.

For Len Montanari, who has been a member of the World Series Club for 15 years, said it was a treat for people like Valentine to come to their meetings and reveal the insights of the shenanigans that happened behind the closed doors.

“For a baseball fan in the winter, it is like going through withdrawal,” Montanari said. “(Valentine) is a very colorful guy and he has an extraordinary history. He was fired by George Bush while at Texas, its fun to hear the backstory about things like that.” 

Although Valentine’s passion for baseball continues, he remains focused on his tenure as Athletic Director at Sacred Heart University.

– Written by Kimberly Pena, Hartford Courant

League Notes

– Gary Burnham Jr. is now the GM of the newest team in the GHTBL, the South Windsor Phillies and the league is ecstatic to have him involved. Gary owns a property management business and has a family of five of his own who live in South Windsor.

– Special thanks from the GHTBL goes out to the Worlds Series Club, especially to Tim Brennan, his family and the Montanari Family.