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The King of Pop
Andrew Lawrence
April 30, 2007
Michael Burgess's soaring home runs have pros, and foes, taking notice
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April 30, 2007

The King Of Pop

Michael Burgess's soaring home runs have pros, and foes, taking notice

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MICHAEL BURGESS is the nation's best high school power-hitting prospect, and he's expected to go among the top 10 picks in the June draft not only because of his big stats but also his Bunyanesque home runs. Last year, in Florida's state 5A championship game, the outfielder-pitcher from Hillsborough High in Tampa hit a blast that cleared the 40-foot centerfield wall at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota—a feat previously accomplished by only Ken Griffey Jr., Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas. Last August at the Aflac All-American Classic home run derby in San Diego, Burgess smacked a home run that cleared an adjacent six-story building—while using a cracked bat. "He has that pop you just can't teach," says Hillsborough coach Kenny White. "When you hear the ball come off his bat, it's just a different sound."

At 6 feet, 210 pounds Burgess might also be delivering pops on the football field—as a freshman he excelled at running back and safety—but he quit the gridiron at the urging of his grandfather Sylvester, who was concerned that Burgess might get injured. "The coach really wanted me to play football," Burgess said. "But he understood." Michael says he's very close to Sylvester, 65, who retired seven years ago from his job at an aluminum manufacturing plant to help look after him. (Around that time the career of Burgess's mother, Temeka, who works as a Chase sales representative, became more time-consuming.) Sylvester says, "He comes to me when he needs advice—or when he needs pocket change."

After hitting .511 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs in 35 games last year, Burgess is at .410, with three homers and 22 RBIs in 24 games this season. The dip is largely a function of Burgess's not getting many pitches to hit; he has been walked 34 times, and when White briefly moved Burgess to the top of the order, hoping to force teams to pitch to him, Burgess drew leadoff walks in three straight games. That's the down side of clubbing moon shots: word spreads fast.