Where to even start with Dylan Burdeaux, who does so much — at least record-wise — for the best team in Southern Miss baseball history? Here’s as good a place as any: Entering Tuesday’s game against Southeastern Louisiana at MGM Park, Burdeaux leads the nation in hits with 86.
Batting leadoff, Burdeaux, a senior from West Monroe, Louisiana, also leads the 40-12 Eagles in runs batted in with 60. And you tell me: When was the last time you ever remember the leadoff hitter leading his team in RBIs?
Burdeaux also leads Conference USA in RBIs, is second in the league in both doubles (19) and stolen bases (15), and is tied for third in runs scored with 54.
His head coach, Scott Berry, says Burdeaux also leads USM in leadership.
“He is the guy all of the rest of them listen to,” Berry said. “Dylan has earned everybody’s respect by the way he handles himself. He appreciates the little things that help you win baseball games. You watch what happens when one of his teammates lays down a sacrifice bunt. He’ll be the first one out of the dugout to congratulate them every time. He brings that kind of attitude every day, to practice and games.”
Burdeaux is the only senior who is an everyday starter at USM, and he has been for four years now. But he almost did not come to USM at all.
Burdeaux was a highly recruited linebacker at football powerhouse West Monroe High. TCU, which was competing for national championships, recruited him hardest.
“We had kind of a pipeline going from our high school to TCU,” Burdeaux said. “I really thought about it, thought at one time I was gonna do it.”
His visit to Southern Miss — for baseball, not football — changed things. He says he loved the place, coaches, the family atmosphere and how the fans related to the players.
“The fans here at The Pete hang on every pitch. To me, that’s what baseball is all about,” he said. “I decided to go the baseball route, and I’m glad I did.”
What about football?
“I missed it at first,” he said. “I still think about it. (USM quarterback) Nick Mullens is a good friend. We came here together. He talked to me about coming out. The coaches talked to me some. In the end, I just decided baseball was the best route for me and I stuck with it.”
A third baseman in high school, Burdeaux moved to the outfield as a USM freshman. He hit .266 as a freshman, .283 as a sophomore and then .335 as a junior when he made all-conference and led the team in hits, runs, total bases and home runs.
Burdeaux has made the adjustment to first baseman as a senior while hitting .352 with an on-base percentage of .417.
“I can’t tell you how many runs Dylan has saved us with his defense at first base,” Berry said. “There ought to be a stat kept of how many runs a first baseman saves by picking the ball out of the dirt. I’d bet Dylan leads the nation. It looks like he has been at first base all his life.”
Burdeaux has endeared himself to Southern Miss fans, as was evidenced Sunday in the final regular season home game against UAB.
With the Golden Eagles holding a safe 8-0 lead, in the top of the ninth inning Berry called timeout, stopping the game. Just when everyone was trying to figure out why, Berry sent in a substitute for Burdeaux, who trotted off the field where he was mobbed by teammates. He received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd, a fitting tribute to surely one of the most productive baseball players in USM history.
Rick Cleveland (email@example.com) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.