By Dick Dornan
MyBurbank Sports Editor
To the victor go the spoils.
Last spring after Burbank High School won its first league championship since 1991, the Bulldogs were showered with praise and congratulatory wishes. And rightfully so. Finally, after many long years, they were kings of the diamond.
There is truly nothing like being crowned a champion. Whether it is a league title, a CIF title or a State title, the word “champion” will forever be linked to the Burbank Bulldogs in 2013.
Yet, at the same time, comes the toughest task of all: defending the title. While a new season brings fresh faces to the field and plenty of unanswered questions for a coach, the expectations and pressure to defend its title will hover over Burbank.
It comes with the territory but is being welcomed with open arms by Burbank coach Bob Hart and his players.
“Early on I’ve kind of put that bug in their ear that I want them to understand that they have a chance to continue to carry the torch rather than starting over,” Hart said. “I don’t look at it as a rebuild but as more of a retool. The expectation is now to defend what you have. That’s our approach.”
On April 1, for the first time in 22 years, Burbank will take the field as defending league champions against Arcadia to begin the quest of defending its Pacific League title. Rather than being the hunter, Burbank becomes the hunted.
“It’s a big deal especially being a part of the team last year. For me, it’s big to try and defend it,” catcher Sam McKinnon said. “We are young but I’ve made it clear how important it is to us. Hopefully we can rise up to the occasion.”
In order to prepare for the challenge, Hart entered his team into two tough tournaments. Playing in the Easton Tournament followed by the Babe Herman Tournament will pit the Bulldogs against some great competition.
“We feel that’s how you get them ready. You test yourself against the better teams and learn what you are all really about rather than a false sense of bravado going into league,” said Hart, who enters his 10th year as coach at BHS. “It’s how you get better. Or you can thump your chest and beat all the little guys.
“We want to play against the big guys and get them ready. It might be humbling at times for us but if you can weather that storm I think when you come out the other side it could go really well for you.”
Burbank graduated 15 seniors from its championship roster of a year ago. Returning are three players who will be expected to provide the necessary leadership to a very young team. McKinnon and fellow seniors Camden Palmisano, a second baseman, and outfielder Alex Tarandek are the “meat and potatoes” of the team according to Hart.
McKinnon takes over behind the plate and will help develop the pitching staff.
“I’ve always been close to the pitchers but now giving them a few pointers here and there has really helped them but they’ve also helped me kind of grow,” he said. “It’s a mutual relationship and I’m looking forward to seeing them grow during the season.”
Despite the lack of experience on the team, the Bulldogs do have a plethora of young talent that helped the Burbank junior varsity team also win a league title last spring. Many of these players are versatile and can play multiple positions.
“We are looking to get better every time out. Varsity and JV is day and night,” said Hart. “It’s been an adjustment for them and more recently they’ve made that adjustment. They are starting to warm-up to the concept of competition at the varsity level.
“We try to not let them get locked into ‘a’ position but fortunately they are talented enough to play two or three positions. Our depth is probably a little bit better than some years that I have been here.”
Talented newcomers include pitcher Randy Higgens, shortstop Cameron Briggs and pitcher Ryan Porras (all juniors) along with three talented freshmen in Andy Reyes, Branden Phillips and Danny Porras. Juniors Alex Minnick, Chandler Robbins and Rory Roughtean also will contribute in the Bulldogs lineup.
“It’s a lot of fun being out here with this new team. This is a young and exciting team,” said Palmisano. “We all gel well together and we are excited getting the season underway. We’ve come a long ways and we have a ways to go. We are definitely getting there.”
Winning back-to-back titles won’t be easy for Burbank. Crescenta Valley, Arcadia and Burroughs will field top-notch teams and a fierce battle will ensue in the Pacific League.
Champions embrace the challenge. These Bulldogs already have.
“Being a senior it’s going to be great to defend our league title. That is what we are all about here,” Tarandek said. “We have a really young team but we are all enthusiastic about it.”