Older brother Steve once told younger brother Dave Burns to play baseball as long as he could.
The words stuck with little brother and, at age 43, Burns is glad he listened.
The Vernon baseball product celebrated a fourth championship in Europe as Burns and his Attnang-Puchheim Athletics won the Austrian Baseball Federation’s Baseball League Austria title series in a hard-fought seven-game thriller over the Vienna Wanderers.
“This was the sweetest championship of all four because it was Game 7 and because it was by far the hardest fought championship,” said Burns. “Plus at my age, it takes a lot more to prepare for these games than it used to so I am absolutely exhausted. I am 20 years older than many of the guys on my team and I am proud of the fact that I can still play with these guys.
“It was sound advice (from Steve) and I am glad I listened because these are memories I never would have had if I hadn’t listened.”
Game 7 saw the Athletics send New Yorker Ryan Rupp (dual citizenship with Austria) to the mound against the Wanderers’ young Austrian star (“Only 17 but very good,” said Burns).
The A’s broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the third, which included a Burns RBI sacrifice fly. Holding a one-run, 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Attnang-Puchheim – which had the league’s best offence in the regular season – strung together six hits for five runs, highlighted by a double from 38-year old catcher Andre Gruber which drove in a pair of run, and a 9-3 lead.
Austrian pitching legend Walter Strasser, 35, came on in relief to get the final six outs for the A’s’ second straight title.
Burns took over as player-coach in Attnang, and led the team to the league’s best record at 22-4, and topped the league in offensive, defensive and pitching categories.
The Athletics faced the Stockerau Cubs in the semifinals, sweeping the best-of-five with Burns belting a three-run home run in Game 2 en route to a 7-4 Attnang win.
The Wanderers advanced to the championship series by upsetting the Vienna Metrostars (21-5).
“The Wanderers have a history of being playoff performers and upsetting top-seeded teams,” said Burns. “They have a young, talented team strengthened by two American imports, a Japanese import player-coach and the best Austrian pitcher of all-time, former NCAA Div. 1 pitcher Christian (Chilli) Tomsich, who is now 39 but still plays regularly in a city league in New York.”
The Athletics won the first two games of the final at home, 11-0 in a mercy-rule Game 1 contest, and 10-9 in Game 2, rallying from a 6-1 deficit. Burns sparked the comeback with a grand slam.
Tomsich didn’t play in the first two games but was flown to Vienna from New York for Games 3 to 5. Chilli threw a three-hit shutout in Game 3, a 3-0 Wanderers win. The Athletics won Game 4, 4-2, only to lose Game 5 2-1 as the Attnang bullpen hit back-to-back batters with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the eighth.
In Game 6, Burns hit an RBI single off Tomsich to help propel the Athletics to an early 3-0 lead. But Tomsich stepped up his game and allowed no ore runs while the Wanderers scored five for a 5-3 win.
Burns was 3-5 with a double and RBI in Game 6. In the playoffs, Burns hit .316 with three doubles, two homers and led the post-season with 13 RBIs in 10 games.