Danielle Burge’s swing is so consistent her coach uses “Albert Pujols” when describing it. Her numbers have her in the same sentence with three-time Olympian Crystl Bustos, the Albert Pujols of her sport.
Burge lets others talk about all that. She plays softball, loves the game dearly, but is not consumed by it. She keeps her eye on the ball, but not just in the batter’s box.
You see, Burge is at Heartland Community College to ace tests and make grades and build the foundation for her life. She is more student than athlete, regardless what her home run total suggests.
“Education is my main focus,” she said. “Softball is just a bonus with it.”
So while to most Burge is a sophomore from Tremont with 25 home runs entering Saturday’s doubleheader at Spoon River, tied with Bustos for No. 2 in NJCAA history, she looks in the mirror and sees an elementary school teacher and coach in-waiting.
That is her plan, her dream and, with every sunrise, her motivation.
“I work really hard in the classroom,” Burge said. “I’ve always wanted to be a coach and I know a lot about the game. I also love kids, so …”
So, she commutes every day from Tremont. A job loss in the family prompted her to leave Kankakee Community College after last season, when she hit 22 home runs, and move home.
Money was tight. Driving to and from Normal was cheaper than paying for an apartment. It’s a small bump in the road when you know what you want.
Sure, a national record would be nice. Lacy Goodman, playing for Phoenix College, hit 32 home runs in 2009.
With 10 regular-season games, regional play and, possibly, a national tournament to go, Burge could get there. She woke up Saturday morning with a .460 batting average and 99 runs batted in. Heartland John Bassett calls the designated hitter/catcher flatly, “The best player I’ve coached.”
“She does not swing for home runs. It reminds me of an Albert Pujols type swing,” Bassett said. “Every swing is identical from the beginning of the year until now.
“She has an uncanny ability to keep her weight back on all pitches, inside or out or off-speed, with her hands back and still deliver a forceful blow.”
It is the product of a lot of things. She’s been swinging a bat since fourth grade, with her father, Jim — “My hero,” she said — serving as her hitting coach.
She has benefited from Heartland’s strength and conditioning program. Being a catcher, she thinks like one, and often has a good idea what pitch is coming.
Beyond that, Burge knows softball’s place in her life. Some athletes never get that. Others figure it out too late.
She has offers from Division II Quincy University and Illinois-Springfield. She also is being recruited by Division II Saginaw Valley State, Division III Illinois Wesleyan and has had discussions with Division I Western Illinois.
They want her because she can hit the daylights out of a softball. She’s evaluating them on a different level.
“I have to go where the education is,” said Burge, who will major in elementary education and minor in business administration. “I know going in as a transfer into my (academic) program is a very big step.
“I would love to play D-I, but I’m thinking for my perspective, a D-II or a D-III school would be best for me.”
Yep, her eye is on the ball.
And she plays softball, too.
Randy Kindred is at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Kindred Blog: www.pantagraph.com/blogs