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Burger inspires others battling anxiety issues

Former White Sox top Draft pick opens up to fans, aims to end stigma
@scottmerkin
March 29, 2020

CHICAGO -- Jake Burger, the White Sox top pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, issued a Twitter statement about two weeks ago addressing his current health status as the Minor League third baseman works his way back from two left Achilles tears in 2018 and not playing affiliated baseball since

CHICAGO -- Jake Burger, the White Sox top pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, issued a Twitter statement about two weeks ago addressing his current health status as the Minor League third baseman works his way back from two left Achilles tears in 2018 and not playing affiliated baseball since Sept. 4, 2017.

More importantly, the outgoing 23-year-old who is ranked as the club's No. 15 prospect by MLB Pipeline, spoke of his battle with depression and anxiety during this absence from baseball and he offered up his open DMs for anyone who needed some help or simply wanted to talk.

A few days after that message, Burger contacted his girlfriend, Lauren, and told her he wouldn’t be able to talk that night. Instead, Burger was going to take the time to respond to the countless messages he received via social media.

“I literally sat there for five hours responding to everybody and trying to reach out to everybody,” Burger told MLB.com in a recent phone conversation from Arizona. “Just messages in general, I probably got, I would say over 1,000.

“The amount of support has been just unbelievable. It’s funny because you are not so much looked at as a White Sox baseball player. You are looked at as an athlete who has dealt with a lot of things people can resonate with. They either deal with it or have it in their life somehow.”

Those messages didn’t come exclusively from White Sox fans or individuals who necessarily followed him on Twitter. Burger heard from people asking what he did “to get out of these days where it just seemed like your world is kind of caving in on you,” he said.

A few Cubs fans even connected with Burger, humorously admitting they weren’t sure if they could reach out to him because of the crosstown rivalry. But yet his words were inspiring.

“Obviously, I’m not an expert, but going through it, you are almost an expert in it,” Burger said. “So, being able to not even explain what they need to do but just to have somebody that they can talk to and me being that ear for them, I feel like I’m making a difference.

“Personally, I didn’t want to talk to my family and friends about it because I was embarrassed by it. Having that outside, non-opinion based, don’t even know any of these people, but being there for them, that’s one of the coolest human interactions I’ve had in my entire life.”

Burger was building his way back in Spring Training 2019, and he actually got into an extended spring game last May -- going 1-for-3 as a designated hitter. That positive return burst was followed up by a sharp pain in his heel the next morning where he could barely walk to the bathroom. Luckily, the Achilles looked great on an MRI, but with the new stress reaction, bone bruise diagnosis, Burger wanted to get himself right both physically and mentally.

“It’s a mental toll, too. You are back in a game, super excited, and then that happens,” said Burger, who went to Bellin Health in Green Bay to continue his rehab work. “It’s kind of a crusher. A lot of depression a lot of anxiety throughout the whole process. You see your boys succeeding and you are happy for them, but at the same time it’s like, ‘Damn, I wish I was there with them.’

“Then it’s like, 'Are people going to think less of me as a person because I haven’t played even though that’s completely irrational to think, but those are the voices you are dealing with.' That’s why I wanted to put that tweet out there and reach out to anyone who is struggling to let them know they are not the only ones struggling.”

This current difficult time for everybody caused by the coronavirus pandemic has given Burger a little extra time to come back at full strength. He’s already done everything from hitting to fielding, and he is working on running production, in terms of scoring from first on a double in the gap, and he plans to be fully ready to go with an affiliate when baseball returns.

Yoán Moncada is the White Sox third baseman of the present and future. Even though Burger feels as if he’s become better defensively at third through studying the game, he also believes if he hits, there will be a spot for him one day with the White Sox.

“I’m right where I want to be right now, and I’m super motivated. I’m the underdog,” Burger said. “I’m more comfortable being that under the radar, almost forgotten about player than I am at the top.”

And Burger will continue to be there for White Sox fans, or for those people who didn’t connect with him until he tweeted about his personal dealing with depression and anxiety.

“Honestly, when I put the tweet out, I didn’t expect it to blow up like this. It’s been a really cool experience to go through,” Burger said. “It’s important that we end the stigma behind mental health and not being able to talk about it.

“They feel embarrassed or lesser of a person because they are dealing with these issues. So, I just want to end that stigma.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.