Do you remember June 12, 2017? If the date doesn’t ring a bell, which it probably doesn’t, it was the start of the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
White Sox fans waited patiently to see who their 11th overall pick would be. After about roughly 45 minutes, out came commissioner Robert Manfred to announce the team had made their selection. “With the 11th selection of the 2017 MLB Draft, the Chicago White Sox select Jake Burger, a third baseman from Missouri State University, in Springfield, Missouri.”
Immediately, we all became fans of the 21-year-old. I mean, his last name was literally Burger. Pretty easy to get behind a power bat whose last name would double as a fast food item. South Side was written all over him from the start.
According to director of amateur scouting Nick Hostetler, Burger even announced his fandom of the White Sox before his draft interview started.
“Before we started the interview, he stopped and said, ‘I’m a huge White Sox fan.’ Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, those were his heroes.”– Nick Hostetler via MLB.com
“It’s unbelievable. I grew up watching Paul Konerko and tried to emulate his game. There are no words to describe how pumped I am and excited I am for this opportunity. There are just no words.”– Jake Burger via MLB.com
We had our guy. He was one of us from the very start, and we all rallied for him.
Of course, we all know what happened in February of 2018. Burger ruptured his left Achilles tendon and would be out for the entire minor league season. Just a few months later in May, he lost all progress on his recovery when he re-ruptured the same tendon just walking in his backyard.
I don’t want to waste time on the injuries because we all know how hard it was for him. But I want you to just sit there and think, really think, do you know how hard it was for him? Sure, we can say things like “Get well soon” or “I know it’s tough, but it’ll get better.” Those words are nice and they can travel a long way, but we have no clue how things were going for him.
He said the injuries had taken a toll on him mentally, and it wasn’t until March 2020 that we found out he was battling depression and anxiety. This is where the article gets personal for me. Jake had the courage to speak up on something that isn’t talked about enough. Depression and anxiety are some really serious stuff, yet there’s a stigma around them.
Jake was already an inspiration to many before he said anything, overcoming injuries and trying to claw his way back to the top. But his speaking up about these things made him even more of a fan favorite. He was greeted with overwhelming support. Dude, you deserved every bit of it. It takes a lot of courage to step up and explain what is going on in your head.
“It’s kind of a crusher. A lot of depression and a lot of anxiety throughout the whole process. You see your boys succeeding and you are happy for them, but at the same time it’s like, ‘Damn, I wish I was there with them.”
“Then it’s like, ‘Are people going to think less of me as a person because I haven’t played even though that’s completely irrational to think, but those are the voices you are dealing with.’ That’s why I wanted to put that tweet out there and reach out to anyone who is struggling to let them know they are not the only ones struggling.”– Jake Burger via MiLB.com
Back in December 2018, just months after his second injury, Jake Burger was on the Sox On 35th Podcast. We were shooting the shit and having a good time talking baseball and video games. We already loved this guy, to begin with, and now he’s coming on our podcast and cracking all of us up. From then on, Jake and I would DM on Twitter back and forth every so often to keep in touch.
It’s the things that people don’t see that make Jake such a good dude. Obviously, I wanted to respect his boundaries with him being a professional athlete and the fact that we never actually met. But the thing is, I never felt like I was annoying him.
Being a senior in high school at the time, I was only 17 and didn’t really have much more to life than school, hockey, video games, and the White Sox. In 2018-19, Fortnite was currently the most popular thing on planet earth at the time, and Jake would always ask me to hop on Xbox and play with him. Sadly our schedules just never lined up, but the dude was asking me to play Fortnite with him. We were really just being boys.
Then came the pandemic and in April 2020, and I was really going through the shit. My application was denied trying to transfer schools, we were all stuck inside, the whole world was on pause, and I thought life just sucked. I had been dealing with some stressful things over the years, but I didn’t really speak about it. On April 13, 2020, a great friend and hockey teammate of mine for 11 years decided to take his own life. It was at this point that my brain really didn’t know how to react to anything.
I felt guilty. I felt sad. I felt mad. At some points, I just didn’t feel anything at all. I was completely broken. I was thinking my life sucked when I didn’t understand how bad others had it.
Over the next four or five days, I didn’t really go on social media or communicate with others. I just sort of turned myself off for a while. Jake noticed something wasn’t right with me and reached out. I wasn’t tweeting my usual Stephen A. Smith memes or making stupid posts about the Cubs. He made sure I knew that he was there for me. I opened up to Jake about my struggles, and he was there to listen. He inspired me and gave me the courage to make sure my brain was in the right place. I can’t really thank him enough for that. Sure, I can say thank you a couple of million times, but it won’t express how thankful I really am.
Now, I have the courage to tell everyone that I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety since the sixth grade. I’m on Twitter to provide videos, graphics, and maybe a few funny tweets here and there, but I want other people to know that I will also listen to anyone who wants to talk. I’ve been through it and as Jake said, I’m no expert but I will sure as hell listen and try to help.
Let’s all end the stigma. Jake, if you get a chance to read this whole thing, I refuse to play Fortnite to this day. I will run you in NHL though, bud.
Featured Photo: Laura Wolff Photography/Twitter