GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former Gators pitcher John Burke was out to dinner with his family on Friday night when he asked someone to flip the TV to ESPN so he could see some scores.
It didn’t take long for a score to scroll across the screen that caught Burke’s attention.
“It was funny, immediately after I got it turned over, I see the Florida score real quick. I see the score and the no-hitter going,” Burke said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, baby.’ My older son is all over it. He said, ‘They’ve got to beat Bethune-Cookman.’ He’s all pumped up. He’s going to be playing baseball [in Omaha] the same time as the [College] World Series. Hopefully the Gators will be there.”
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The best night of Burke’s pitching career was dusted off on Friday night as Florida sophomore Jonathon Crawford tossed only the seventh no-hitter in NCAA Tournament history in a 4-0 win over Bethune-Cookman. Burke was the last to accomplish the feat, shutting out Furman 2-0 with 14 strikeouts on May 23, 1991.
As he followed Crawford’s outing from afar on Friday night – Burke lives in Littleton, Colo., outside of Denver – Burke wanted Crawford to join him in the school and NCAA record books.
“I’m still a Gator,” said Burke, who after leaving UF pitched in the majors with the Colorado Rockies. “I’ve always been very attached to Florida. It’s never stopped since I left. You knew it was going to happen. The cool thing is it happened at Florida and it happened on the same field by two Florida Gator pitchers.”
There have been two no-hitters pitched in the NCAA Tournament since 1974: Crawford’s on Friday night and Burke’s 21 years ago.
Burke didn’t need to talk to Crawford after the game to understand what he was feeling. He felt the same way on the way to the College World Series his sophomore season in ’91.
“After you get past the first inning, you are kicking people’s butts and you know it,” said Burke, like Crawford, a power pitcher who threw in the mid-to-high 90s. “About the eighth inning, he figured it out, ‘Oh, I’ve got a no-hitter.’ He was beating on people. Then you start getting nervous.
“I remember mine,” Burke continued. “It was actually in the ninth inning when I realized, ‘Holy cow, I’ve got a no-hitter.’ It was when I went out for the ninth. At that point when you get that many people out in a row, you know you have a really good thing going. You just go with it and outs happen really fast, and innings happen really fast.”
Once his professional career ended, Burke returned to Gainesville to complete his degree. He then returned to his native Colorado and now manages an orthopedic company and coaches his son Clayton’s 11-year-old team.
Burke remains close to Florida sports and considers Gators men’s golf coach Buddy Alexander one of his closest friends.
“I go to Gainesville twice a year still now,” he said. “I stay with Buddy and play golf and have fun.”
Burke, 42, is going to be in Omaha the opening weekend of the College World Series later this month with Clayton for a tournament. If the Gators make it that far, he’ll have a chance to meet Crawford.
You can bet they’ll talk about their no-hitters. Burke considers it one of the highlights of his career, but not above the people he met in the game.
“That was a great moment, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “A moment like that goes so fast. It takes two hours to go through a moment like that. My greatest memories are the people I played with and the friends I made. That’s no different from my time in professional baseball.”