Nobody really wants to be in baseball's minor leagues and traveling to "hot spots" like Fresno, Calif., and Round Rock, Texas.
Yet as the Portland Beavers gear up for what's usually their largest home crowd at PGE Park each season—the Fourth of July game this Friday—the Triple-A team's longest-serving veteran insists he's still happy to be here.
"It seems like it's not even work," says Rich Burk, the 43-year-old radio and TV "Voice of the Beavers" and vet of close to 1,400 minor-league games.
In that time, he's watched dozens of players move up to the Beavers' parent, the San Diego Padres, and he too dreams of something bigger.
"I'd like to make more money, and I'd like a higher profile," says Burk, who has been with the Beavers since 2001. "We have a fervent core of listeners here, but in the big leagues there's a lot more of them."
There's nothing minor-league about Burk's preparation for a radio broadcast on KKAD-AM. For a 7 pm game, he'll put in a couple of hours at home, gathering notes and stories on opposing players while trying to squeeze in some time with his wife Heather; 8-year-old daughter, Madeline, and 5-year-old son, Dalton.
By 4 pm, he's out at the park for more prep work. For example, before the Beavers' 12-2 home loss last week to Colorado Springs, Burk interviewed Sky Sox rightfielder Seth Smith, who made the last out in the 2007 World Series, when he was with the Colorado Rockies.
Burk's knowledge verges on the encyclopedic. During an interview with WW before the game, he didn't need notes to toss off that Beavers pitcher Cesar Ramos is the "winningest lefthanded pitcher in Long Beach State history" and once cooked carne asada and tacos for 55 players at spring training.
"With the Beavers roster, I have something on everybody," Burk says. "Hopefully that's true with other teams, too. But if you give me a name and where he's from, I could probably do something with that. I mean, I do this 144 times a year!"
Burk, who has designed and published online 25 versions of baseball scorebooks, played first base in the mid-'80s at MiraCosta College in Southern California. On the advice of his coach, he transferred to Pacific University in Forest Grove to play and be the "Voice of the Boxers." He admits the "subtext" of that advice was that Burk's future lay in the booth rather than on the field.
He took to broadcasting, doing games for Pacific and the University of Portland before landing the No. 2 job with the Single-A Rockies in Bend. When that team moved to Portland in 1994, Burk followed. And he has broadcast baseball from PGE ever since, including when the Triple-A Beavers replaced the Rockies in 2001.
Burk, whose tall, lean build suggests basketball more than baseball, says he's been a finalist for major meague jobs with Colorado, Milwaukee, Atlanta and St. Louis. He's filled in short stints for major-league teams, including a 10-game stint in 2003 for the then-Montreal Expos.
"How you approach it, and how you get one of those jobs, I don't know," he says. "In 1996, the executive producer of the Rockies broadcast told me if it were up to him I would have gotten the job. The reality is, I wasn't ready then, and I'm better now than I would have been had I gotten that job."
Whatever the audience, Burk insists he loves what he does. "My one prayer is if I get a [major league] job, make it be the right one. I can't imagine being any happier than I am."
Burk has called a triple play as well as a no-hitter and a perfect game, but he's never developed a signature home run call. "I might always say, 'It's high, long and gone,' but what if it isn't high?"