Sitting in the stands of a hockey rink as a scout, Josh Burgmann says he’s really happy with how life has turned out.
It’s a far cry from his days as a baseball player, rising through the ranks of the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball to the University of Washington before being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2019 and embarking on his professional career.
However, after a nagging injury landed him on the operating table again, Burgmann decided to retire before the 2022 season, leading him to another passion of his: hockey.
To the surprise of no one who knows him, he now serves as the head scout and director of player personnel for his hometown Nanaimo Clippers of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), a Junior-A team that has opened the season with a 4-3-1 record through its first eight games.
“I’ve always been a hockey nerd,” he told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
“I’ve always followed the game – I love analytics, statistics and all that kind of stuff from the hockey side of things.”
Burgmann says he has no regrets about how his baseball life went, and is happy about the opportunities and life he’s building for himself now as he moves up the ladder in hockey.
HOPE OF THE HUSKIES
Expectations were high on Burgmann when he first arrived in Washington in 2016.
As a high school ace with Vauxhall, he had just been drafted in the 30th round by the St. Louis Cardinals but elected to continue his studies.
Burgmann’s first spring with the Huskies was cut short after eight appearances following an arm injury.
His first appearance back in the spring of 2018 was against the Oregon State Beavers, where he allowed one run in two innings, which happened to be the result of an RBI-double by current Baltimore Orioles star Adley Rutschman.
The right-hander finished the year with a 2-2 record, a save, and a 3.19 earned-run average (ERA) in 16 appearances.
Burgmann became a starter in 2019 and excelled with a 4-6 record and 3.99 ERA in 14 appearances, striking out 101 batters in 79 innings. That earned him a fifth-round phone call from the Cubs that summer.
He finished the year by going 0-3 with a 3.79 ERA in nine appearances for the Eugene Emeralds of the Low-A Northwest League.
With a solid start to his professional baseball journey underway, Burgmann entered the 2020 season hoping to move up the depth charts.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic ground the world to a halt.
“We were told to head home and that it might be a couple of weeks or a month,” Burgmann recalled.
“Everyone was trying to stay ready to play once again that year, right?”
Like his fellow teammates, he had also headed home, and never had the chance to build off his previous success on the mound.
With a little more certainty heading into 2021, Burgmann says he entered the year feeling good.
“Everyone’s really excited to get going again and I was gearing up for the season,” he said. “My velocity was up and I was feeling strong and ready to go for the year.”
Unfortunately, as Burgmann started to ramp up for Spring Training, he felt something in his shoulder that wouldn’t go away.
Instead of joining his teammates to start the minor league season, he stayed back in Arizona to figure out what might be wrong.
“I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on,” Burgmann said. “I tried to do just rest, recovery and rehab first, but that didn’t end up working.”
He received a cortisone shot in his shoulder in hopes of getting back onto the field, but that didn’t work either. Eventually, his season came to an end after a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.
“The most frustrating part was that I got back into throwing shape and as soon as I was able to get back up on the mound, that’s when the pain would start to come back in my shoulder.”
While Burgmann had grown used to handling the physical challenges of injuries after his previous arm experiences, he admits this time felt different.
The 6-foot, 210-pound hurler had spent months not seeing his wife and family, while he also weathered the challenges of 45-degree heat in Arizona.
“I probably reached the lowest point of my life, honestly,” Burgmann said. “It was very difficult for me to come out of that.”
YET ANOTHER SETBACK
Giving him hope was the ability to go home that winter to rest, rehab, and most-importantly, reset.
He started throwing again during the winter, and entered January 2022 with confidence that he was heading down the right path again.
However, as Burgmann ramped up his pitching intensity, so did the pain in his shoulder.
He called the Cubs, who flew him back to Arizona for an MRI, which uncovered a labrum tear that would need to be fixed.
“At that point, it was kind of decision time about where life was going to go for me and what I wanted to endure from a mental perspective,” Burgmann said.
Physically, he knew he would be able to make the comeback again, but it was the mental struggles of having to go through the recovery again while spending more time away from home while facing the reality that many Cubs prospects were passing him on the depth chart.
Weighing the pros and cons of his situation, Burgmann decided to retire from the game.
“I have no regrets,” he said. “I love the game and I love what the game gave me personally, I got to travel the world and play against some of the greatest players.”
“I’m grateful for the time that I got to play and I wouldn’t change anything about my playing career.”
AN EYE ON THE ICE
During all of his unexpected downtime, Burgmann had made a point of staying in touch with his other sporting love.
Always interested in hockey operations, he says he always believed that’s where he would end up if he stopped playing baseball.
That’s why he decided to send an email to Colin Birkas, who was then the assistant coach of the Clippers, hoping to get a scouting position.
With the ability to livestream games, Burgmann sent in a few reports and the team liked what they saw, hiring him as a regional scout in 2021.
During the 2021-2022 season, Birkas was named head coach of the Clippers, while Burgmann was promoted to head scout.
This fall, Burgmann added the title of director of player personnel to his portfolio. He is also a senior consultant with Hawkeye Hockey Services.
While it sounds like hockey is dominating his post-playing career time, Burgmann has managed to stay involved in baseball as well.
He spent the summer of 2023 as the pitching coach of the Lethbridge Bulls, with one of the highlights being a near-perfect game from Javier de Alejandro.
Burgmann is also hoping to instill some of his expertise and experience with his alma mater at Vauxhall as well as with Prairie Baseball Academy as a coach.
Whether it’s baseball or hockey, he says his message to young athletes remains the same.
“It’s mainly about the work ethic from a day-to-day perspective,” Burgmann said. “Sometimes, kids can get lost in the big picture a little bit, but at the end of the day, you have a goal you want to reach and it has to be about what you’re going to do in that moment or on that day to get to that goal.”
He says it’s important not to get too high or too low, to stay even-keel, and to make sure that the work of each day goes towards the end-goal and not to make it about the goal itself.
It’s also a mindset that Burgmann is creating for himself as he has set down his roots in Lethbridge, having bought a house less than a year ago.
“I love going to the rinks and watching hockey,” Burgmann says.
“It’s something I really like to do and I’m really enjoying where I am in life.”
If his rapid rise up the ranks with the Clippers is any indication, more front-office opportunities might be on the horizon for Josh Burgmann sooner than later.