Jake Burger comes off as a happy guy. And he was extra happy Sunday.
Burger's injury-riddled pro baseball career has presented an awful lot of challenge for the former first-round pick. But finally, after years without getting to play baseball, he was back on the diamond.
There's just one thing that was bugging him.
"The first thing I said to (White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson) after my first at-bat, I looked up at the scoreboard and I was like, 'I need to get that picture changed,'" Burger said. "I’m 40 pounds down from that picture. I really want a new picture."
Indeed, Burger has become the "after" in a weight-loss ad, 40 pounds trimmer than he was when that "before" picture was taken in a past spring.
The White Sox will surely work on getting an updated shot of the svelte Burger on the Jumbotron at Camelback Ranch. It's the least they can do after all the work Burger has put in to get back on the field.
It was that very field on which Burger first tore his Achilles tendon back in 2018. Then, while rehabbing that injury, he tore it again. Along the way, he incurred another setback, with his heel. His 2018 and 2019 seasons were wiped away. Due to COVID-19, there were no games for him to play in in 2020, either.
It's been an offseason-long talking point that Andrew Vaughn, the organization's top prospect, has only played in 55 minor league games in his less than two years in the White Sox system.
Burger's played in fewer, just 51 games, despite joining the organization two years earlier.
"It was a special moment today," Burger said after Sunday's game. "I kind of broke down in tears on the way to the field for the first day (of camp). So this is just another milestone in the comeback. It feels great to be out there with the guys and just playing baseball again.
"(Being back in a game,) it kind of told me that I belonged. Those injuries are well behind me, and I’m back to playing baseball and belong there.
"There’s always going to be that self doubt if I lost anything, and I didn’t feel like I lost anything at all. I think I got stronger. Today was a huge day for me."
Evaluating Burger's spring is different from evaluating that of anyone else in White Sox camp. Though manager Tony La Russa mentioned Burger's name among the young players competing with Vaughn for the team's DH job, it seems Burger is ticketed for the minor leagues to get more reps under his belt after so much time away.
Who knows what the future holds, as the White Sox are set at Burger's position, third base, with Yoán Moncada signed to a long-term contract. Vaughn seems to be the frontrunner for the DH gig and could soon find himself a fixture of the big league lineup for years to come. José Abreu is the reigning AL MVP and not budging from that first-base spot for at least the next two years.
But rather than worry about how he fits in at the major league level, Burger is happy to even be a puzzle piece, the experience of his return to action and participation in camp far outweighing the results for the 24-year-old.
"I’m just trying to have fun and play baseball," he said with a smile. "I missed three years of that, so it’s one of those things where I’m just happy to be here.
"Trying to take in as much information as I can and have fun with the guys again. Take good at-bats. It’s as simple as that."