Added power helps Front Royal’s Burden win Home Run Derby

Front Royal's Andrew Burden breaks up a potential double play ball as he is forced out at second base as New Market shortstop Kobe Lopez completes the play during their June 18 game at Bing Crosby Stadium. Burden, who has four homers this season for the Cardinals, won the Valley Baseball League Home Run Derby on Sunday in Harrisonburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Before the season started Front Royal Cardinals head coach Zeke Mitchem wanted each of his players to tell him what they wanted to improve on during the Valley Baseball League this summer. For first baseman Andrew Burden it was to become more powerful at the plate – mission accomplished.

Burden (Piedmont College) showed how much pop he’s added to his bat by winning the VBL Home Run Derby on Sunday at the All-Star game in Harrisonburg.

“It was my first time ever doing anything like it,” Burden said on Tuesday afternoon. “I wouldn’t say I didn’t have a chance, but I would definitely say I was the underdog going in being a lot smaller than the other guys. But it was a lot of fun.”

Mitchem said it didn’t take long for him to help Burden with his swing and to see improvements.

“It took about two or three swings in batting practice to see that there was some leakage, is the term I use with our guys, some power leakage in his swing that we could hopefully tighten up,” Mitchem said. “And he made some adjustments quickly. He started to feel it. He started to see it. And I think that’s one of the things that makes coaching fun is when you see a guy adopt some of the same things you’re trying to get them to do quickly and feel the success and see the success and he definitely has done that.”

Burden said he has never been a big home run hitter, which made winning the Home Run Derby even more of a surprise for him.

Burden had plenty of tough competition in the Home Run Derby, including Covington’s J.D. Mundy (Virginia Tech), who has 12 home runs this season. There were eight contestants in the event held before the All-Star game.

Burden hit five home runs in the first round, the most of the contestants, and automatically advanced to the finals.

“Honestly going in I was just hoping to get a few in the first round, just to honestly not make a fool out of myself,” Burden said. “But it was a lot of fun. Obviously, it ended up working out in my favor. It was a good time.

In the finals, Burden beat New Market’s Andrew Eyster (University of South Carolina), 1-0. Burden said it helped that he had Front Royal assistant coach Tyler Beman throwing to him in the Home Run Derby, just like he does in batting practice every day.

Burden said the event was definitely a memorable one.

“It feels good,” Burden said. “Like I said, I was inexperienced, so I didn’t expect it. And it’s kind of one of those things I’ll never forget and it was really a good time.”

Burden also started at first base in the All-Star game for the North squad, which lost 7-3. He went 1-for-3 in the game. He said being part of the VBL All-Star game was special for him.

“It was a lot of fun being around some of the best players in the league,” he said. “Obviously, a lot of good competition. It’s one of those things that I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life. Whether I go pro ball or not, it’s one of those things that I can tell my kids one day and always remember.

Burden is hitting .360 (31-for-86) for the Cardinals this season with a team-best four home runs. He also has 10 doubles, 23 RBI’s, 21 runs scored and has drawn 12 walks.

The Cardinals have a three-game lead in the North Division with an 18-8 record, and Burden said he’s been very happy with how the season has gone so far.

“We got a really good team here,” he said. “We all get along, it helps on the field. I think summer ball it’s hard because you got people pretty much coming and going all summer. You’re adding people and losing people. So we just got to keep working hard every day and playing together and we’ll keep winning games.”