GLENDALE, Ariz. — A little ankle soreness isn’t going to fell Jake Burger.
It’ll take a lot more than that for one who has been through a ruptured Achilles, a second rupture that occurred while he was in his backyard, a bruised heel and the almost overwhelming battles with anxiety and depression that came in the aftermath.
Burger can handle pretty much anything thrown his way now.
“I’ve figured out ways to manage it, but I’ll still have days where you revert to where you were in your worst moments,” Burger said. “But it’s not as severe or frequent.”
In March 2020, Burger, sidelined by the injuries and dealing with things weighing heavily on his mind, opened up on social media about his mental-health struggles.
Support poured in from everywhere.
“The coolest thing is realizing you’re not alone,” Burger said. “When I posted that during my injury, and when I [announced] this initiative this offseason, the outpouring of support, of people saying, ‘Hey, I’m dealing with the same thing,’ you realize there are so many out there battling. Not everyone understands that. It’s been cool, people reaching out.”
“Burger B.O.M.B.S.” is the initiative Burger speaks of. It includes a website he created that is building a community for open discussions about mental health. It will be up and running next week.
Besides hiking and meditation, Burger’s mental-health plan includes mapping out his daily routines in writing to stay grounded, reading and talking to others.
“Jake faced some serious injury adversity early in his career, yet continued to fight through it and is now competing with absolute fearlessness of failure,” Sox assistant general manager Chris Getz said. “That state of mind is what all athletes strive for.”
A Sox first-round draft pick in 2017, Burger blew out his Achilles in a Cactus League game in February 2018, starting his downward spiral. He missed two seasons with injuries, then a third (2020) because of COVID-19. He regrouped, lost 40 pounds last offseason, and now his career path is trending upward again. It reached a significant checkpoint when he played in 15 games for the Sox last season, batting .263/.333/.474 with a home run.
“When I was healthy, baseball was kind of monotonous, and I didn’t appreciate it that much,” he said. “When you get hurt, it’s: ‘Screw this; I don’t want to play baseball anymore.’ You get on the field again, and there is a new passion for it and appreciation. It’s a weird cycle, going from being a first-round pick to not knowing if you’ll play again to what I did last year.”
To talk to Burger is to wonder where the depression or anxiety might have ever existed. He’s upbeat, well-spoken and gets “what a nice guy” reactions from anyone who meets him. That doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods. He might never be completely out.
“It takes a long time to fully get over,” he said. “Being able to manage it definitely helps.”
Burger’s spring has been marked by a little bit of everything, including 5-for-18 hitting (.278) with a homer and two doubles, leaving a game Sunday with a sore ankle — a lingering aftereffect of the Achilles issue — and appearing in People after he tweeted a picture of an odd sunburn on his shaved head, caused by trucker mesh in his spring-training hat.
“I’ve got a bone to pick with those spring-training hats,” Burger tweeted.
“That was crazy, People magazine,” he said. “Last time I checked, it had, like, 6 million impressions, so 6 million people know what the back of my head looks like.”
With third baseman Yoan Moncada in front of him, Burger knows the challenge of making the Opening Day roster. He played first base for the first time last week and has taken grounders to expand his versatility.
“I always say wherever they need me, I’ll play,” he said.
And in a better frame of mind.
“My mindset for the rest of my career will be: I’m fortunate and blessed to be able to play,” Burger said.