Ex-Surf player Greg Burke is one example of the players rising from the fertile ground of baseball talent in South Jersey.
The former Bernie Robbins Stadium in Atlantic City, commonly referred to these days as Sandcastle Stadium, sits on Albany Avenue near the end of U.S. Routes 40 and 322.
Once the home of the Atlantic City Surf, a professional baseball team that originated in 1998 and is unaffiliated with Major League Baseball (MLB), the stadium has sat almost completely empty since the Surf ceased operations on March 30, 2009 — the first time it was used in the last two-and-a-half years was on July 2, 2011, for a hip-hop concert.
Although the Sandcastle’s once radiant red and blue color scheme may be fading due to the lack of stadium upkeep, memories of America’s pastime inside the 13-year-old arena are anything but vanishing.
At least that is the case for former Surf pitcher Greg Burke, who pitched in the Major Leagues in 2009.
If it weren’t for his experiences as a player with the Surf, Burke would probably not be in the midst of his sixth season in MLB-affiliated professional baseball.
Burke, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-handed-pitcher, attended Gloucester Catholic High School in Gloucester City, N.J., from 1996-2000.
As a junior and senior, Burke earned All-State and All-America honors while helping Gloucester Catholic win back-to-back state championships in 1999 and 2000.
In 2000, Gloucester Catholic finished the year as the nation’s best prep team according to ESPN.com, thanks in large part to Burke’s 8-1 record and 1.05 earned run average (ERA).
“He was probably one of the most poised players I ever coached,” says Dennis Barth, Gloucester Catholic’s head baseball coach. “I remember how we went to a tournament in California his sophomore year and I put him in with the bases loaded and he got out of it. Nothing fazed him ever, he was always a cool cucumber.”
Following high school, the New York Mets drafted Burke in the 42nd round (1,262nd overall) of the 2000 MLB Draft. But, he had previously agreed to attend Duke University on a full baseball scholarship, which, according to Burke, made for an easy decision to not turn pro.
“It was a no-brainer honestly,” Burke tells Atlantic City Weekly. “The Duke education was just something that I couldn’t pass over. And, [for me], there was an allure with going to a school as prestigious as Duke.”
With its frigid winters, South Jersey has never had the ideal environment for developing top baseball prospects. Despite this, the region has been successful in sending players to baseball’s highest ranks. Twenty-two graduates of South Jersey-area high schools are currently playing Major League Baseball affiliated ball.
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