Memories of a slugger
During his short adult life, the 6-foot-3 first baseman was an enthusiastic Little League coach who once gave one of his players, who had just lost his dad to a bone disease, a soft-toss machine so he could practice his hitting.
And when Burton, 24, died on July 11, 2008 - when his truck fell 400 feet off a corner on Flat Iron Road near Waha - more than 1,500 people showed up at his funeral.
"The last year has been pretty tough," said Brian Burton, Josh's brother. "He was at the center of all of our lives. It's been hard to find that center again."
On Saturday, a dozen or so of Josh's former L-C teammates, along with a collection of other past Twins player, will participate in the inaugural Josh Burton alumni game. The game will be part of the Twins' annual memorial tournament, which this year will be dedicated to Josh and will run today through Sunday.
The alumni game will be played on the one-year anniversary of Josh's death. It will actually begin within the hour, though Brian said they didn't originally plan it that way.
"The idea is to celebrate the things in his short life that he created," said Bruce Burton, Josh's father. "So many people have rallied around him. He was a pretty unique kid, really."
On Friday, the Burton family will also present a scholarship which they hope to give out annually to a Twins player. The Burtons, as well as a few other people who spoke at the funeral, will address the crowd.
The recipient of the scholarship has already been selected, but the family wants to surprise him on Friday.
Brian said the family is receiving donations for the scholarship. About a dozen businesses have chipped in, along with many family and friends in the valley.
Bruce said Josh and Brian's experiences with American Legion baseball gave them a unique perspective regarding the challenge of playing 60 games each summer.
"The whole purpose is to create an ongoing scholarship," Bruce said. "I had two sons play legion baseball so I realize the kind of commitment they have to make."
Josh, a 2002 graduate of Lewiston High, played baseball and football for the Bengals. In the summers he played one season each for the Lewis-Clark Bucs and Cubs followed by two seasons with the Twins. In 2001, he won the Dr. Irvin L. Cowger Award for producing the most RBI, 16, during the course of the postseason and the World Series.
The Twins caught fire late in the season that year. Their magical ride in the postseason ended with them finishing second in the World Series, the best in club history.
"He would hit the ball like 800 feet, it was crazy," said Derek Bruce, a former teammate and close friend of the Burtons who has helped organize the tournament. "He had man strokes for just being a high school kid."
Twins coach Tom Grunenfelder said he remembered a game at Walla Walla where Josh hit a home run that almost hit the shortstop in the adjacent field.
"He hit a ton of home runs for us but the monster shots he hit for us were just unbelievable," said Grunenfelder, who was in his first year as Twins coach in '01. "He was a real big kid with a real big heart as well. I can't say enough good things about that kid."
He went on to play baseball for two seasons at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore., before returning to school at Lewis-Clark State.
Josh, who was also an avid outdoorsman, worked as the special event coordinator for Pepsi.
T-shirts memorializing Josh will be handed at the tournament. The white T-shirt will say "Celebrate Life, Family, Baseball."
"Baseball is a family," Brian said. "We've created a whole family in American Legion. People outside of American Legion don't know how much time it takes and all the bonds it creates."
The right corner of the T-shirt will be marked with a tattoo that Josh used to have. The tattoo is an Old English "B" with the name "Burton" written between the two columns.
"He wanted the whole family to have one," Brian said. "It will be special to see so many people wearing them."
Jones may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2268.