BY JAMES TUBB ON JUNE 8, 2022.
Keon Burkholder can’t wait to pitch at Athletic Park.
The 19-year-old was supposed to make his debut as a Medicine Hat Maverick in Saturday’s rained out game against the Moose Jaw Miller Express.
Burkholder was able to manage his body and make his debut the next day in Swift Current against the 57’s and made a quick impression. The right-handed pitcher picked up the win on the mound with three strikeouts in five innings of work, holding Swift Current to a second-inning run.
After Sunday’s game Burkholder didn’t reflect long on the victory.
“I think we have a lot in front of us that we can accomplish and I don’t want to just stop looking right now,” Burkholder said.
He joins the Mavericks from Lackawanna College in Scranton, Penn., the same school Mavericks head coach Tyler Jeske is an assistant coach. Due to a passport issue, Burkholder only joined the Mavs on June 1. He said he’s heard a lot from his new teammates about the home opener and is already looking forward to his first home start.
“I’ve never thrown in that big in front of that big of a crowd,” Burkholder sad. “But nerves are nothing, so I’ll be able to shake that. I think I’m ready for it.”
Jeske used Medicine Hat and the environment the fans provide in his pitch to Burkholder on why he should join the Mavericks coming off his freshmen season.
“He comes from a very small school in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, he is still a very young baseball player,” Jeske said. “When I look at this league and specifically the town of Medicine Hat and the fan base, playing night in and night out at a gorgeous stadium with a strong fan base. You can go anywhere this summer but this environment, this town, this group of people, is going to develop you in a positive way unlike anywhere else you could possibly go. This is a special place. That is going to help you in ways that nobody else can and that’s going to be much more in the long run.”
Burkholder spoke highly of Jeske and said as soon as he was named coach he let him know of an opportunity for him there.
“He’s more of like a mentor in my area to teach me to grow and understand the real world outside of our area, and it’s really nice,” Burkholder said. “This season overall, he’s just a good guy in my life, he’s a good dude.”
While at Lackawanna, he said there were some ups and downs as he was learning to balance baseball and school. He said the biggest thing he learned was consistency.
“One thing I learned that’s different between the high school and college level is everybody can hit home runs, everybody can throw hard. It’s just how consistent can you really do it,” Burkholder said.
He’s looking to improve on that consistency while also proving himself more and learning to take the game more seriously in his time as a Maverick.
“I know I have a lot of doubters out there, a lot of people don’t think I’m that good. But this gives me an opportunity to grow up and really shine into who I can really be,” Burkholder said.
Burkholder is accountable and he will tap on his chest when he doesn’t execute a pitch to let his catchers know he recognizes the mistake and will adapt the next time.
He loves to compete whether it’s on the diamond or playing pickup; he does not like to lose. That is part of his mindset before every game, don’t let someone beat you. It’s a mindset he learned from his dad who was his coach growing up.
“We were a little back and forth but he kind of piled that into me and let me know, that’s how the real world is.”
Baseball was never Burkholder’s mainstay sport, as he grew up really liking soccer. But once Grade 9 hit and he grew another three inches, he said he found baseball because he got good at it and hasn’t looked back since.
Now, before every game he will watch the Spartan movie, 300, the night before every start and can be seen wearing his Beats headphones while he warms up. He’s a fan of all music, with the artist J. Cole his current go-to.
Burkholder says he uses music to communicate and connect with people, something he is looking forward to doing while in Medicine Hat. He says the city is just like home in that everyone here is hospitable and he is excited to meet the Maverick fans.
“I love meeting new people, I’m a very big introvert but when I can, I like meeting new people and shaking hands,” Burkholder said.