Zack Burdi took a seat in the White Sox dugout and glanced up toward the suites where, as a kid, he watched Mark Buehrle – his favorite pitcher — throw a perfect game.
Seven years after Buehrle’s perfecto, the Sox made their second first-round pick of the June draft available to media before the team opened a four-game series against the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field. The 21-year-old graduate of Downers Grove South was engaging in conversation, much less threatening than he figures to be with a 100-mph fastball that could equip him as a future closer on the South Side.
It must have seemed surreal.
“I grew up a Sox fan,’’ said Burdi, before throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.
Burdi’s father didn’t have to call his son, as Ken Harrelson beckoned, when Buehrle took his masterpiece into the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 23, 2009. His kid was watching it happen before his own eyes.
“I was here with my travel team in those [section] 320, 322 suites, thanks to a dad who hooked us up, and the next thing you know you’re watching Buehrle’s perfect game,’’ Burdi said. “It was crazy and I remember it like it was yesterday.’’
Burdi, 21, picked 26th overall out of Louisville after the Sox had taken Miami catcher Zack Collins 10th (the Sox should hashtag their draft the #zackdraft), had hoped to make a memory and be called up this month, but the front office, citing his workload between Louisville and the Sox’ farm system, called it a season after he posted a 3.32 ERA while striking out 51 in 38 relief innings over four minor-league levels. At Class AAA Charlotte, Burdi had a 2.25 ERA.
Another power arm, second-rounder Alec Hansen, excelled at four levels, as well (the highest being Class A Kannapolis), leaving the Sox feeling pretty good about first-year scouting director Nick Hostetler’s first class.
“We couldn’t be more happy with Zack and the rest of the draft class,’’ Hostetler said Monday. “Our scouts did a terrific job finding the right combination of ability and makeup this year.
“Zack has been everything our area scout Phil Gulley said he was. Outstanding makeup and drive.’’
Catcher Kevan Smith, who was called up, raved about Burdi’s confidence.
“Very competitive,’’ Smith said. “That’s what I love to see on the mound. When I went out to talk to the guy, he’s like, ‘I’m getting an out every single pitch,’ instead of, ‘What are we going to do here?’ ’’
Asked to elaborate on that persona that people speak of, Burdi said it’s just the way his eyes “switch” when the lights go on.
“So I pitched my first game in Triple-A, and [teammates] asked me what I take before I pitch,’’ Burdi said. “I said, ‘I don’t take anything.’ They said, ‘You don’t take Adderall or anything?’
“I guess they just switch into a really weird mode. But when I’m out there, I feel super-relaxed. Just growing up in a home with two older brothers, everything was competition. That just carries out onto the field.’’
Burdi carries that 100 mph heater out there, and that’s more intimidating than his eyes.
“I’ve been up and down this summer, at 97 to about 102, 103,’’ he said. ‘‘When you see [Aroldis] Chapman . . . in the back of my head I’m like, ‘Wow, when I get out there, that’s what I look like.’ ’’
About 15 mph more than Buehrle, who had a pretty nice career.
“It’s something to put in your back pocket,’’ Burdi said. “But you don’t want to make it an ego thing.’’
If Burdi can take his stuff and pitch a little like that guy he saw throw that perfect game, the Sox might have themselves a gem.
Hostetler thinks they do.
“He’s going to be a major part of our team in Chicago for many years to come,’’ Hostetler said.