Family, friends remember Randy Burden
Special to the News-Herald/Provided by Theresa Burden
Nansemond River graduate Randy Burden, 23, who was drafted by the Anaheim
Angels' farm system in June, was found dead on Friday afternoon.
For over a decade, Randy Burden was a fixture in local little league baseball. From the age of eight, he played in Portsmouth Churchland League, then Suffolk's Bennetts Creek and Chuckatuck league. He also played AAU ball, and was took part in America Legion competition.
When high school came around, Burden took his skills to Nansemond River. A mainstay at third base, he helped the team to the top five in the state in 1995-6 and 1996-7. In his senior year, Burden made the All-Southeastern district team. An avid artist, he painted the "Nansemond River" display that can still be seen on a dugout at the school.
After graduation, he headed down to Murfreesboro, N.C. to attend Chowan College. There, his interest turned to pitching. "The coaches saw how hard I could throw, so they moved me to pitcher," Burden said. "It was kind of scary, because I hardly ever pitched before."
His fear quickly evaporated; Burden became a four-year letterman at the college. He set a school record in closings, and led the team in innings pitched (66) and strikeouts (76) in 2002, a year in which he was named the school's Male Athlete of the Year. For his artistic work, Burden was named the 2002 Outstanding Graduate in graphic design.
Like millions of other Americans, Burden dreamed of playing professional baseball. In June, his dreams came true; the Anaheim Angel farm system signed him to a one-year contract (the first Chowan player to sign with a big league team since the school became a four-year college in 1992). Playing for the Provo Angels of Utah, he recorded nine strikeouts in 10 appearances, recording a 7.45 ERA.
Since returning to Suffolk in September, Burden continued to work on his pitching skills, working out twice a week. By the time training camp rolled around in February, he was determined to perfect his changeup and split-finger fastball.
After getting off of work from A.J. Gators Sports Bar last Thursday night, Burden picked up some cleaning materials to cleanse his cleats, ready for another lesson. Once home, he watched some videos on his laptop (on which he sharpened his graphic design skills during baseball season).
At about 11 p.m., Burden's mother Theresa said good night to her son. Tragically, it was the last time they would ever speak. During the night, the 23-year-old died in his sleep. The cause of death has not been determined.
Immediately, the Burden family received support from everywhere. "All of our relatives have been calling and coming by," Theresa said. "His girlfriend is coming here from Connecticut, and all of his teammates from Chowan are coming to his funeral."
Burden's wake will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. tonight at Snelley's Funeral Home in Churchland. He will be buried (in his Chowan baseball uniform) at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Meadowbrook Cemetery on Shoulder's Hill Road.
"He was really excited about his first season," said Theresa. "When everyone else was ready to go home after the season, he wanted to stay there and play."
In October, the Angels won their first-ever World Series. "He was thrilled about that," Theresa said. "He'd already gotten his workout schedule for next season." On Saturday, Burden's coach told Theresa that her son had achieved his goal for the off-season; his changeup and split-finger fastball were looking sharp.
"The entire Angels organization is deeply saddened by Randy's passing," said Tony Reagins, the team's director of personnel. "This is very difficult to accept, not simply because Randy was a member of our baseball family, but also because losing someone so young is almost incomprehensible." Burden's death was mentioned on Friday's episode of ESPN's Sportscenter.
Back at Nansemond River, baseball coach Phil Braswell remembered one of his top proteges. "The biggest thing about Randy is that he was really nice," Braswell said. "He was always quiet, he didn't tell everyone how good he was." During his time as a Warrior, Burden took part in many camps, and often helped Braswell keep the field looking nice.
"The biggest asset of coaching is building great memories with your players," Braswell said, "and he helped us all build a lot of those."
His family and friends have their share as well. "You could never find anyone who didn't like Randy," Theresa said. "He always really cared about his friends. He was very well loved, and he still is."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.