D.C.’s Newest Giant

By Carla Peay
Updated: June 23, 2008

WASHINGTON — Ona blistering hot Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, more than 100 friends and family members of San Francisco Giant shortstop Emmanuel Burriss didn’t seem to mind the heat or humidity.

Clad in specially made white tee-shirts reading “Emmanuel Burriss: D.C.’s Giant”, the Burriss cheering section got exactly what they were hoping for on Sunday, June 8 when Emmanuel got the start. During the four-game series with the Nationals, Burriss went 2-for-5, stole a base, and scored three runs.

“It’s meant a lot to be home, to have them see that their support really paid off. To be able to get a start and show everybody that not only am I on the team, but I’m here starting in a major league game in D.C. means a lot,” Burriss said.

A product of Wilson High School in the District, Burriss pursued baseball, at a time when most other young Black athletes were being drawn toward football and basketball, especially those growing up in urban areas.

“In the inner city, there are a lot more facilities for football and basketball, but my family is a big baseball family, and that’s a big reason why I stuck with baseball. It was always around. It was rare to see baseball being watched in inner city houses, but it was always on TV in mine,” Burriss said.

Despite playing on fields that were mediocre to poor, Burriss worked on his game by becoming a switch hitter, and worked to improve his speed.Although his talent for the game was clear from a very early age, the scouts did not come calling.

“It was real hard growing up, because you always have that positive thinking, that you are one of the best. I always felt I was good enough to play at the highest level, and when the scouts weren’t coming, that’s when I went to college. I went all out, and took my work ethic up even higher, and it gave me a lot of motivation,” Burriss said.

Burriss attended Kent State, a Division I school in Ohio, where his athletic gifts caught the eyes of both the basketball and the football coach, but Burriss remained loyal to baseball. After three years, Burriss became the 33rd overall pick in the 2006 MLB supplemental draft, going to the San Francisco Giants.

Even at the age of 23, Burriss’ attitude toward the game is one of a seasoned veteran. “Baseball is a game of failure. It’s going to take a lot mentally. This game will keep you modest and it will keep you humble,” Burriss said.

Burriss’ arrival in town prompted a media storm, and the Burriss family has been besieged by interview requests and well wishers.

“My family and I have truly been honored by Washington D.C. Friends and family and people we don’t even know have been calling. They are truly happy for Emmanuel,” said Allen Burriss, Emmanuel’s father, who played baseball in high school and helped instill his son’s love for the sport.

“I saw his skills and agility in the sport of baseball when he was about eight years old, and thought ‘we’ve got something here’. By the time he was twelve, my wife and I saw he had potential, and we decided to invest in that,” Allen Burriss said.

It has been 38 years since a player born and raised in the District has made it to the major leagues, and Burriss’ success did not go unnoticed by baseball executives in the District.

“I’m so excited that this young man is from D.C. His presence here at Nationals Park does wonders for other kids out there,” said Alfonso Maldon, one of the Nationals’ minority partners, and president of the Nationals’ Dream Foundation, which promotes programs to help inner city youth discover and participate in baseball.

“He [Burriss] is already a role model. If he made it, it gives other young kids from this area hope that they can make it as well,” Maldon said.

With African American participation in Major League Baseball at an all time low of around 8.2 percent, Burriss story of hard work and perseverance in a sport that is losing Black athletes by leaps and bounds may serve as a source of inspiration.

“His making a major league team will mean something if he gets the chance to play everyday and makes an impact, like Maury Wills did. As long as he plays good defense and continues to hit, he will get his chance,” said Bill Ladson, the MLB.com beat writer for the Nationals, who has covered the team since 2003 when they were still the Montreal Expos, and is African American.

Wills broke into the majors in 1959. Also a shortstop, Wills played for Cardozo high school and was an integral part of the Los Angeles Dodgers championship teams in the 1960’s.

He was a five time All-Star who was known for his speed and his gift for stealing bases. Burriss is also a prolific base stealer and led the Giants organization with 68 steals last season. Burriss calls it “an incredible honor” to be mentioned with Wills.

“I want to be a role model for kids, and I want kids to understand that you dream can true, and even if they don’t, there’s no harm in going after them,” Burriss said. “Even off the baseball field, I want to show kids the example of being a good person.”