ORLEANS — Californian Connor Burns, one of three catchers for the Orleans Firebirds this summer, has a grueling schedule. He’s up early every day to head for Nauset Fitness, where he spends the morning lifting weights and doing mobility exercises.
Those hours at the gym are among Burns’s only time not at the field. In the early afternoon, he reports to Eldredge Park Way for stretches, drills, batting practice, and mental exercises in preparation for that evening’s game. He’s rarely home before 10 p.m.
Yet the word Burns uses to describe his summer here: “Fun.”
“I’m really thankful to be out here, playing against the best,” he says.
A rising junior at California State University, Long Beach and a native of Chino Hills, Burns started playing when he was three.
“I loved it off the bat and just kept going with it,” Burns says of the sport. “And I never looked back.”
He played high school ball, travel ball, and scout ball throughout his teen years. Now, he’s one of the best.
“I hated playing against him because he’s a really good catcher,” says Bryce Warrecker, a Firebirds pitcher and rising junior at California Polytechnic in San Luis Obispo, who has played college ball against Burns. Now, as teammates and friends, the two have developed a strong pitcher-catcher bond. It helps, Warrecker says, that both have “West Coast baseball minds,” meaning they are used to the same types of pitches and calls.
Burns was the Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2022 and was also second in voting for the ABCA Rawlings Gold Glove Award, which is given to the best NCAA Division I defensive player for each position. Firebirds Manager Kelly Nicholson describes him as “one of the best, if not the best, defensive catchers in the country.”
“Even to an untrained eye, watching Burns catch in games just has a different feel,” according to the Firebirds website. “He sucks up fastballs at the bottom of the strike zone. … He smothers balls in the dirt, rarely letting a wild pitch trickle more than a few feet away from his dwelling.”
During his time on Cape Cod, Burns has learned a lot. “It’s a little tougher than a college season,” he says. “You really have to be focused in.”
Burns likes the daily schedule of games — it means more opportunities to perfect his game and learn from failures, he says. He adds that so much time together has brought him closer to the other guys on the team.
Burns is living in Eastham with three teammates and Joan Lockhart, their host mom for the summer. During his rare free time — the Firebirds have an off day about once every two weeks — Burns has enjoyed minigolf and going to the beach.
His plans for the future? “Hopefully, professional baseball in some way,” he says. “But if for some reason baseball didn’t work out, I’d hope to stay on the baseball field, but on the business side of it.”
Cape Cod Baseball offers a little preview of that future. It’s awesome, Burns said, “playing with guys who hopefully will make it to the big leagues one day,” he said. “Or we’ll make it together.”