Rehab turns to White Sox bonding soccer trip

July 22nd, 2021
Jake Burger (center) and Dane Dunning (right) root for their Tottenham Spurs. (Courtesy: Jake Burger)

CHICAGO -- and were sitting in the Camelback Ranch training room sometime around Thanksgiving 2019 when they decided they had enough.

Not enough of their injury rehab work, of course. It was a long, painful and sometimes frustrating necessity in order to achieve their Major League dream as they are doing now with the White Sox. They simply had enough of being in Arizona.

And thus, their soccer trip to England took shape, running from Black Friday through Dec. 10.

“We were in there one day and said, ‘Screw it, let’s look up flights and see what it looks like and see if we can figure something out,’” Burr, a right-handed reliever, told during a recent interview. “We had nothing else to do. I went straight home and started looking at every single possible thing, trains, planes, whatever, soccer tickets.

“At that point, you are just so sick of going to the training room. It’s like we’ve got to get out of here. We have to get our minds off this, go enjoy something for a little bit. The greatest part was the trainers were actually encouraging, saying it would be great for you guys. Get out of here for a week, go do something.”

Burger’s injury issues have been very well-documented, with the third baseman suffering two ruptured left Achilles and a bruised heel costing him three years of baseball time. Burr was dealing with rehab work for Tommy John surgery, and right-handed hurler Jimmy Lambert, who was doing his post Tommy John surgery work in Arizona, joined in the soccer journey.

This trio was part of an unofficial club in Arizona featuring young White Sox players rehabbing their way through injury woes. That crew also included right-handed pitchers Dane Dunning, A.J. Puckett, J.B. Olson, Zack Burdi and Luke Shilling, making it possible for them to hang out with each other, lean on each other and get through the tough times while keeping their focus on big league dreams.

“There was what like 12 guys, 10 guys and there was kind of revolving door. The mainstays kind of ran the training room,” a smiling Burger told during the same interview with Burr. “Saw a lot of movies. Just tried to pass the time with each other.”

“Having guys who are going through the same kind of basic thing as you makes it a little bit easier to get through it,” Burr said. “Bounce ideas off each other, pick each other up when you are having a down day. Stuff like that. I was definitely thankful we had that little group who were there for a good amount of time that stuck together and did everything together.”

Soccer was a mainstay on the Camelback Ranch training room television screens. With Burr supporting Manchester City and Burger standing behind Tottenham, there were a couple of stops to be made.

The group did more than just soccer viewing. They went on the Tower of London tour and saw where the Beatles first started after taking a train to Liverpool. Burr lived in Europe when he was younger and visited London a few times, so he became the unofficial tour guide.

“One-hundred percent trip of a lifetime,” Burr said.

“It took us 24 hours to plan the whole trip,” Burger said. “Clear your mind, go do something and be a normal person. Don’t be a rehabber. Don’t be a baseball player. Be a normal person and enjoy something. So that was really cool. We saw a Tottenham game, Man City game and a Liverpool game. And there’s nothing like it over there. It’s crazy.”

“I’ve been to a Super Bowl,” Burr added. “And it blew that out of the water.”

Burger and Burr already are talking about taking another excursion, possibly to Italy or Germany, once the world is back to normal. For now, they are homed in on helping the White Sox win a 2021 World Series title.

“That would be the full circle moment is dogpiling out there at the end of the year,” Burr said. “Obviously, Jake and I are good friends and Jimmy, too, but having him up here now, it’s pretty special to see.

“It’s probably going to be a little bit more special for us knowing where we came from. But that’s the goal. That would be the icing on the cake, for sure.”