Baseball America is profiling the four finalists for the New Balance Game Changer Award, recognizing high school athletes who excel on the field and off, with an emphasis on community service. Eligible players entered an essay contest in which they outlined their achievements in baseball, in school and in their communities. Four finalists were selected, and the winner will be chosen by voting on Facebook, which begins on July 25. Finalists also made short videos about themselves, which you can view on the New Balance Baseball Facebook contest page. The winner will be announced at the Area Code Games on Aug. 7.
For the Burgarello family, motivation in life is simple: Follow Rule No. 3.
Inspired by a Tim Tebow documentary, Marco Burgarello and his siblings have pushed one another in every aspect of life by creating that simple phrase, which takes a Tebow mantra with a baseball twist.
"The quote (from Tebow) is 'Every day you have to ask yourself, was I the hardest working player in the country today?' and we call that Rule No. 3," Burgarello said. The “No. 3” reference pays homage to the uniform number of the late Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, with whom Marco and his family share a special connection.
Burgarello, a 6-foot-1 infielder at O'Connor High in Phoenix, was raised to be a hard worker in every facet of his life, and now he is reaping the benefits as one of four finalists for the New Balance Game Changer Award, which includes a $10,000 college scholarship and New Balance products donated to a charity of the recipient's choice. The award is designed to recognize high school players who make a difference on the field and in their community.
As a rising high school senior, Burgarello has worked to improve the lives of those around him and has become a staple in the baseball community as well as numerous local organizations.
Harmon Killebrew’s wife Nita, who is also the founder of Killebrew’s foundation, commended Burgarello for the dedication that he has shown as a volunteer for the foundation’s projects. One of Killebrew’s priorities in the later years of his life was helping to build Miracle League fields across the country, including his home state of Idaho. Miracle League programs allow individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities to play baseball.
"Marco is always pleasant to be around and always encouraging," Nita said. "He would volunteer every year at our event that we did here (in Phoenix). He was always out here no matter how early and how late and would always stay until it was done."
Marco's relationship with the Killebrew family goes much deeper than volunteer work for his charity, however. After meeting the Killebrew family as an event planner, Burgarello's father Tony introduced the two families, including Marco and Harmon, who hit it off talking about baseball.
"Marco would call Harmon after each game and tell him how he had done and if he had struck out or he wasn't hitting good, Harmon would give him advice," Nita said. "I would always know when Harmon answered the phone, if it was Marco, he lit up like a candle and he just loved talking baseball and helping him with his problems."
Killebrew died in 2011, but the advice of the man Marco called "Grandpa Harmon" helped him blossom into one of the best players on the O'Connor roster, helping the team to a 29-4 record in 2013 and a national ranking through much of the season. Burgarello posted a .458 batting average for the Eagles and served as one of head coach Jeff Baumgartner's most consistent hitters in clutch situations, in addition to being a primary leader on the team.
"We wouldn't have been there without him," Baumgartner said. "He's probably the most coachable kid I've ever been around. There's never any second-guessing that his actions don't match his words."
Even with the high praise, though, Burgarello stays grounded and credits his younger brothers Nico and Noah for keeping him focused on getting better every day. From taking ground balls together in the garage to pushing one another in the batting cage, Burgarello says he and his brothers always keep Rule No. 3 front and center.
"It mostly will apply to baseball, but we apply it to being a student in the classroom, we apply to being a leader in the community, we apply it to anything. It goes so far as to if were eating a meal and if we don't finish it were like, 'Hey bro, Rule No. 3, you’ve got to finish that, you’ve got to get bigger and you’ve got to get stronger,' " he said. "You have to do everything you can to be the hardest working player because that's what going to get you to the next level."
In addition to his success on the field, Burgarello’s off-field endeavors also stand out. As student body president and National Honor Society member, he balances his love of baseball with his responsibilities in school and in the community.
"I'm always kind of doing something, whether it's studying or practicing or going out and helping somebody," Burgarello said. "It definitely takes a lot of time management and a lot of balance in my schedule."
Even with those responsibilities, Burgarello has maintained a 4.58 GPA and has received interest from multiple Ivy League schools, among other Division I schools. With his sights set on a business degree, Burgarello said he hopes to one day own his own business or join a big company and work his way up the ladder. You can bet his family will be behind him the whole way, pushing him to get better, and always reminding him of Rule No. 3.