Bourn relishes return engagement
Speedy outfielder out to prove he belongs in Majors
PHILADELPHIA -- Michael Bourn's first visible stir came in the eighth inning of Philadelphia's 5-3, Opening Day loss to Atlanta, and then again in the 10th.Stretching and watching intently as Pat Burrell led off each of those frames, Bourn knew that Burrell reaching base would likely mean a call for his baserunning ability. With the game tied in the eighth, Bourn could have stolen his way into scoring position. While it didn't unfold that way on Monday, it likely will at some point, one of the big reasons why the team included the young outfielder on the 25-man roster. "Whatever they ask is fine," Bourn said, repeating a familiar mantra. "The important thing is that I'm here and I can make a difference." Bourn appeared in 17 games last season, largely as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement in September. Overall, he received eight at-bats and got one hit, a bunt single. This year, after originally being ticketed for Triple-A Ottawa, Bourn stormed his way onto the roster with a solid spring. He batted .277 in 65 at-bats, and was successful in eight of nine stolen-base attempts. His defense and strong arm showed the Phillies decision-makers that the former fourth-round draft pick could handle big-league duty. "He's ready," said Steve Noworyta, the Phillies' Minor League director. "We all feel he's ready to compete at the top level. He's a guy that matters. He's an attention-getter. That's what happened. As spring went on, all of a sudden Michael's name got on the radar." The prospect experienced an epiphany in 2006. Unsatisfied with his progress after a 2005 season with Double-A Reading -- specifically, his high strikeout totals -- the Phillies returned Bourn there again to start 2006. Halfway through, Bourn earned a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and eventually to the big leagues. He finished the season with a combined 46 steals in 53 attempts and won the Paul Owens Award as the Phillies' best Minor League position player. "It was just maturity," Noworyta said. "Everyone felt last year that he needed time, enough that he had to go back to Double-A. We told him to show enough, and halfway through, we moved him. After that, he was as successful everywhere he went." Bourn's professional career had a few comic misadventures at which he can now laugh. In his first Grapefruit League appearance on March 12, 2005, he lost a routine fly ball in the sun, and it smacked off his mouth and wound up being an inside-the-park homer for Bubba Crosby. "I felt good at first, because I got a hit," Bourn said. "The next thing I know, the ball is coming out to me. I lost it, but didn't want to run away and act like I couldn't see it, but I knew I couldn't. I was lucky it didn't damage my face. You're going to make mistakes, but you can't be scared to make them. If you are, you're always going to be tentative." In 2006, Bourn learned about shuttling back and forth, and not in a good way. His first two callups lasted a total of one day. He was called up July 30, made his Major League debut that night, and was returned the next day. On Aug. 22, he arrived at Wrigley Field at the end of a game against the Cubs game, and was sent back minutes later. "When I got into that office, I couldn't believe I had to go all the way back that same night," Bourn said with a laugh. "Those are the memories I can tell people, man. When you hear people say they've been through a lot, it's like, 'Hold on, buddy.' You hear people complain about stuff, but you have to sit back and get the perspective that I had the opportunity to even play baseball. Very few players get that close." As part of the Phillies' roster, manager Charlie Manuel said Bourn will be more than a defensive replacement/pinch-runner. "He brings a lot of energy and speed," Manuel said. "He's a good defensive player with a good arm, and he can steal bases and make things happen. I can see him playing some, and we'll see how he does. He can play all three outfield positions." Off the field, Bourn plays a mean PlayStation, often challenging Minor Leaguer Javon Moran, Mets outfielder Lastings Milledge or Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford to a "friendly" game of "Madden 2007." "They're all pretty good," Bourn said. "We usually split." Most players feel they've arrived after their first baseball card, but Bourn may have experienced that after learning he was included in the newly released "Major League Baseball 2K7" video game. He's one of the Phils' reserves, but that does not satisfy him. "That's not good enough for me," Bourn said. "I've got a long list of things I want to do, and just making the game is right here [at the bottom]."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.