Professional Baseball vs. Family: One Heroic Couple’s Choice

I'm not a baseball fan. In fact, sports are just not my thing; never have been. However, one thing is my thing and that is the story of a hero. That's something on which I can spend hours.

This hero story is about a baseball player but not just about him. It is about a couple of heroes. Their names are Tim and Christine Burke. Too often, heroes are found on the "field of dreams" or in stadiums, playing or singing to sold-out crowds. Yet these heroes were made at home with a decision to change lives less advantaged than their own.

Upon hearing of their inability to have children, the Burkes took a decidedly different route than most to correct that. While others sought other avenues to deal with the inability to conceive, Tim and Christine chose to adopt children with disabilities. 

"To the world, our children were considered undesirable," Christine said. "But somebody has to take the children like that. And we felt our hearts could handle it." To do so, they bought a home in Indiana with room for as many as NINE special needs children. 

Rewind to 1985, when a boy's dream became a reality. After spending four years in the minor leagues, Tim Burke signed with the Montreal Expos as a pitcher. He quickly established a record for the most relief appearances by a rookie player. I have to admit that I barely can figure out what that means but a record is a record, especially for a rookie.

What I do know is extraordinary and that describes Christine and Tim Burke. According to a 1993 Los Angeles Times story, "Stephanie, 5, came from South Korea as a premature baby. Ryan, also 5, came from Guatemala with a thyroid condition and possible mental retardation. Burke left the 1989 All-Star game in Anaheim moments after the final pitch to fly to Central America to pick him up. Nicole, 2, also Korean, was born without a right hand and has a serious heart condition. She suffers up to 40 seizures a day. And soon, Wayne, a 2-year-old from Vietnam, will be joining the family. His club foot will require corrective surgery."
Though their hearts were in the right place, neither Tim nor Christine knew what they were getting into. The life of a major league baseball player was very demanding but so was the care of these precious lives. It became evident to both of them that they couldn't have it all, one or the other had to go. 

It was in 1993, after signing on with the Cincinnati Reds, that Tim decided to retire at the age of 34. $600,000 was on the line that year alone but those children and his wife Christine were priceless, so the choice was, in a sense, easy.

"And you know something?" Burke said. "When it comes down to it, it wasn't even close. My place is no longer on the baseball field. It's at home."

It wasn't with a tortured news conference that Burke said goodbye to baseball. He didn't blame dumb luck or the burden of those kids or the pressure of his wife. It wasn't what he felt, none of these were the reasons and that wasn't him. Burke just quietly, without fanfare, walked away.

In response to the incredulous reaction of reporters, Tim Burke explained, "Baseball is going to do just fine without me. But I'm the only father my children have."

Some may wonder, why look back so far for a hero? 1993 is so long ago. Yet political heroes go back as far as Roosevelt and Reagan, even Washington and Lincoln. Why couldn't we go back twenty years to find a true baseball hero and his equally heroic wife? Besides, how many of today's baseball players would respond to childlessness in the same way and then selflessly give up such a dream for the sake of family? 

The Burkes are unique, in their time and ours.  It is for that reason they deserve special mention as All-Stars in parenting and perspective.  But I wonder how many will stand up and cheer?  After all, it's baseball season. 

Sources and supplemental material: bio

Would You Give Up Your Career? 
Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson
Major League Dad 
Authors: Tim Burke, Christine Burke and Gregg Lewis 
Real Life Relief : Tim Burke Passes Up Major League Salary to Spend More Time With His Family 
March 13, 1993 by Times Staff writer, Bill Plaschke

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