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Burris: Hard work should be 'honored and embraced'

Phillies' rehab pitching coach talks Black History Month, growing up in Oklahoma
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies rehab pitching coach Ray Burris appreciates hard work and those who came before him.

Burris, 65, grew up as a son of sharecroppers in rural Oklahoma. Before he spent 15 seasons (1973-87) in the big leagues, he worked in the fields with his family -- anywhere from nine to 15 hours a day.

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies rehab pitching coach Ray Burris appreciates hard work and those who came before him.

Burris, 65, grew up as a son of sharecroppers in rural Oklahoma. Before he spent 15 seasons (1973-87) in the big leagues, he worked in the fields with his family -- anywhere from nine to 15 hours a day.

Burris started as a 5-year-old, working through high school. He chopped and pulled cotton. He cut wheat, barley and more. He hauled and stacked hay. He milked cows. He churned butter. He grew fruits and vegetables. He retrieved eggs from the henhouse, hoping to avoid snakes that loved to bite.

Burris raised and slaughtered hogs and pigs, and he learned the art of wringing a chicken's neck. He learned to cook from his mother, memorizing the recipes she taught him.

"I learned what it was to work," said Burris, who recently recalled a time when his family purchased chickens from Sears, Roebuck & Co. "I learned that working was nothing to be afraid of. It was something to be honored and embraced. I applied that to whatever I did from that point on. I don't miss it, but I'm glad I had that opportunity, because it made me appreciate what I was blessed with from that point on. I wish every young person would have the chance to have that lifestyle for just a year."

Burris also shared his thoughts about Black History Month and the importance of celebrating the achievements of African-Americans in Major League Baseball.

"Being born and raised in Oklahoma, the way society was in the early and late '50s, there were challenges that you dealt with day in and day out," Burris said. "I think it's pretty unique to have a Black History Month., because I think sometimes different cultures are lost in the shuffle in American history.

"I'm gracious, I'm appreciative and I'm honored to have had the chance to play professional baseball. I'm appreciative of what Jackie Robinson went through. I'm appreciative of Larry Doby. And I'm appreciative of all the other pioneers in all the other sports for what they endured during that time in our society.

"You can't go back and change anything. But you can be appreciative of those individuals who were pioneers. I never got a chance to meet Jackie Robinson. But I got a chance to meet Rachel Robinson. She was as gracious as she could be. I was really blessed to have the opportunity to thank her and her husband for what they endured to give me a chance to play professional baseball.

"If I could celebrate Black History Month this month, it would be to express thankfulness and appreciation for what those two individuals endured during that time in society. But I don't want to stop there, because I'm thankful for my mom and dad for giving me the values they instilled in me, which I still use today."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Philadelphia Phillies