Former Jeffersonville standout Joseph Burke is making the most of his college years. The junior first baseman for Kentucky Wesleyan tied the school's career home run record with his 33rd blast Sunday and he's enjoying every one.
Burke's go-to play after a home run went viral. First-base coach Adam Brown fakes the hand-off to Burke as he begins to round first base and then fake tosses to Burke as he trots toward second base. The video, taken by Burke's mother Diane Burke, went viral on Twitter with some help from his cousin, former MLB player Chris Burke.
"This all started last year with Josh Gavin. We started it with the beginning of the home run thing," Burke said Thursday from Owensboro, Ky. "I hit the second or third one and kept doing it. Twenty more went by last season and I got to do it a few times this year with Adam. Luckily, I got out there with Adam. We make a joke, 'Dude, we're famous now.'"
With six long balls, Burke has a ways to go to catch what he accomplished last season. The 23 Burke connected for as a sophomore would have amounted to a great career alone. Burke ranked among all Division II players in the nation in home runs last year while hitting .370 and slugging .815 with a .476 OBP.
After a relatively slow start to the 2019 season, Burke has three homers and 10 RBIs in the past five games.
"He's coming on strong," Kentucky Wesleyan coach Todd Lillpop said. "You can't expect to go and do that every year. That's a historic run that he went on last year. They're going to throw you different. You won't see the same type of pitches. They're going to pitch around you. You've got to do what's best for the team. If they walk you, they walk you. He's starting to get some pitches he can hit and he's not missing them now."
As for the celebration, Lillpop enjoys that Burke enjoys his success.
"It's not showing anybody up, it's just part of a routine. It's happening all over baseball now. I really hadn't paid attention until it went viral," Lillpop said.
Tying the career record was a gratifying moment.
"It feels amazing," Burke said. "It's kind of surreal thinking about being in a record book at school now when this is the only school that gave me the opportunity."
Burke has stayed within himself this spring despite opposing teams being a little more familiar with him after last year's monstrous season.
"It's all about plate discipline and pitch selection," Lillpop said. "He works at his craft. We hit a lot. Just like anything in the world, you work at it, you have success. Hopefully he continues his hot streak going into the tournament."
Burke said he's seeing a wide variety of approaches from opposing pitchers this season.
"Every team has thrown me different. I just have to make that adjustment. When I do get my pitch, I have to make the most of it," he said. "My assistant coach, Casey Hamilton, says, 'Take what they give you.' That's helped me a lot. Every time I take a walk, it helps me and the team."
Burke isn't the only Jeff alum finding success at Kentucky Wesleyan. Junior Ian Ellis has come on strong this spring with five home runs in just 74 at-bats.
"Yeah, it's nice to see him here and playing together once again. We grew up together. It's awesome to know he's right behind me and can lose a ball at any time as well," Burke said.
Lillpop came into the season planning to use Ellis — a transfer from Olney Central (Ill.) — as a pitcher more often than a hitter.
"One day I hit a home run and started playing every day after that," said Ellis, who went 2-for-5 with a grand slam and six RBIs in Wesleyan's 15-10 win at Alderson Broaddus (W.V.) on Sunday. "I've been trying to let the ball get deep. I'm just finding barrels I guess."
Ellis hit a game-winning, walk-off homer against Walsh (Ohio) and his coach had him get to work on becoming a regular in the lineup.
"He's slid into more of a left field spot," Lillpop said. "He's provided some pop out of that six hole. He's done a nice job of driving them in, so it's a pretty cool thing to have where he can also pitch if I need him.
"He's got juice in the bat. His thing is, we'll have a lot of guys on base, so we need him to drive in runs. Ian's right there to drive in runs. That's why he's got the starting nod out there. He's been producing."
Ellis is just hoping to help the squad succeed.
"We're starting to get hot toward tournament time," Ellis said.