By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
Dallas Burke is having the time of his life.
Burke, a fifth-year senior at Missouri Southern who missed all of last season because of a shoulder injury, is making the best of a second chance to write a memorable ending to his college baseball career.
He scored four runs and raised his team-leading batting average to .442 with five hits Tuesday in a doubleheader against Emporia State.
A year ago, Burke didn’t know if his baseball career was over.
“It has been a heck of a journey,” said Burke, who began his college career at the University of Iowa.
“Up until this last year, I never realized how fragile your baseball career is. It’s an everyday thing. There is no day I take for granted. Getting to play a game is a reward. Hopefully, in about eight weeks, this team will make a good run at it.”
MSSU (8-9, 4-7 MIAA) wraps up an 11-game homestand on Alumni Weekend with a doubleheader today and a single game Sunday at Joe Becker Stadium. Game time for both days is 1 p.m.
Burke’s presence on the field goes beyond his statistics as a difference maker for the Lions.
“He’s a very, very smart baseball player,” said Brett Abell, a left-hander who is one of two seniors on the Lions’ youthful pitching staff. “His baseball IQ is very high. He works well with the whole pitching staff. He works well with ‘Kus’ (pitching coach Jason Immakus) and the catchers, too, keeping everybody on the same page.”
Burke, who primarily served as the Lions’ designated hitter, has seen more playing time at catcher since an early-season injury sidelined Mitchell Osburn, who began the season as the Lions’ starter behind the plate.
Burke, who was born in Iowa City, Iowa, was all-state as a senior at Davenport Central High School and played two seasons at Iowa where he was named to the Big 10 Conference’s all-freshman team.
In 2011, his first season at Missouri Southern, he was named to the MIAA first team as a utility player although most of his playing time was as a catcher. He led the Lions with a .392 average and had 20 multiple-hit games.
But in a late-April doubleheader against Lincoln at Joe Becker Stadium, Burke’s career was in jeopardy when, right after a rain delay, he felt a strange sensation in his right shoulder.
“I threw a ball and I felt something pop, no, something go numb in my arm,” he said. “When I couldn’t hold a bat any more, I decided to get an MRI. It showed a partial tear of my labrum.”
Burke decided to return to Davenport during Thanksgiving break for a second opinion.
“There’s a really good hospital up there, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics,” he said. “I had one of the best doctors in the Midwest. They said I had a 30 percent tear in my rotator cuff.
“It was too much of a risk to just sew it up, so they did a procedure on it and saved my shoulder.”
The path that eventually brought Burke back to the baseball field and the Lions was a long and demanding regimen of rehabilitation and physical therapy.
“Obviously, young guys like us don’t have surgery, so it took me a while,” said Burke, who underwent surgery on Jan. 5, 2012. “It was about 3 1/2 months before I could throw a baseball again.
“Along with your rehabilitation, there’s the fact that you haven’t hit a baseball against live competition for a year. My average day at home that summer was six hours a day, at least, stretching, then straight to rehab. It was a heck of a process.”
The rewards of playing another season of college baseball with his teammates made all the effort worthwhile, he said.
“I love this game,” he said. “It never became a chore for me.”