By Gary Lloyd
A similar path is continuing for a pair of best friends.
Pinson native Joe Burns left for spring training Monday, and Trussville native Michael Gunter leaves March 3. Burns is a left-handed relief pitcher in the Texas Rangers organization. Gunter is a right-handed reliever in the Chicago White Sox organization.
Their paths to pro baseball have been similar
Both were 2008 high school graduates — Gunter from Hewitt-Trussville, Burns from Pinson Valley. Both went to junior colleges out of high school — Gunter to Wallace-Hanceville Community College for one year, Burns to Jackson State (Tenn.) Community College for two years. Both pitched at Samford University and were roommates. Both don’t blow away hitters with overpowering fastballs — Gunter a sidearm and submarine thrower who succeeds with his curveball, Burns an odd deliverer of the ball whose slider is his go-to pitch.
“I’m pretty much like Michael,” Burns said.
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Pinson, Burns’ hometown, is about 20 minutes northwest of Trussville, Gunter’s hometown. Burns will be at spring training in Surprise, Ariz., about 20 minutes northwest of Glendale, Ariz., where Gunter will reside for spring training. Gunter and Burns hope to hang out at nights after long days of practice. They’ve been working out together at Samford.
“We kind of help each other prepare for what we’re about to get into because it’s our first time being a full (pro) season,” Gunter said.
Gunter spent much of the 2012 season with the Bristol White Sox, a rookie-league team in Virginia. He also pitched with the Birmingham Barons the last week of their season in September. Gunter had a 2.70 earned run average with the Barons, striking out four in 3 1/3 innings. He also had a save in the Barons’ final game at Regions Park. Coaches told him that he’s now the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the last player to throw a pitch in Regions Park?”
“It was kind of neat, kind of being the hometown guy,” Gunter said.
Burns spent much of 2012 in the Class A Short-Season Northwest League with the Spokane Indians in Washington. He had a 1-1 record and a 2.25 ERA. He struck out 24 batters in 32 innings and totaled two saves. He even had his own baseball card printed.
“I ate that up, I was signing autographs like crazy,” Burns said. “I’m hoping I’ll play enough to get a couple more cards.”
The two didn’t know each other personally in high school, just that they faced each other’s team in area play. Pinson Valley got the better of Hewitt-Trussville for area championships their last two seasons. Gunter said he knows one particular game in which he batted well against Burns.
“He always says, ‘Well, we won the area,’ so he kind of got the better end of the deal because they ended up winning and going to the playoffs,” Gunter said.
Spring training ends April 1, when players break and go to the team they’ll play with this season. Gunter hopes to play with the Birmingham Barons so he can be close to home. Burns wants to break with a full-season club, no matter the level.
Both said they are relying on each other for advice and keeping each other accountable with their workouts. They’ll be able to continue that in Arizona, despite playing on different teams.
“It’s a long journey we’re about to get on so we have to be prepared for that,” Gunter said.
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.