The name that Earl Burl III got teased about so much as a kid finally scrolled across the bottom of his iPad screen Wednesday.
All the jokes he grew up hearing, stuff like “Earl Burl the Girl” and “Earl Burl with the Curl,” didn’t matter anymore.
The only thing that mattered for the 21-year-old from Marrero was this: Earl Burl III, 30th-round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays.
“It was a relieving feeling, and everybody went crazy in my house,” said the outfielder, who just completed his third season at Alcorn State. “I knew there was a chance I’d get picked, but you just never know.”
Burl is the first member of the New Orleans Urban Youth Academy to be drafted. He could have returned and played his final year of eligibility at Alcorn, but there really was no use in doing that. He has earned a degree in business administration and plans to go to law school eventually.
“Hopefully I can build some great relationships in baseball and eventually work in the front office,” he said.
But first things first.
He left Saturday for Tampa, Florida, to begin his professional baseball journey.
It’s the next stop in what has been a long and winding path that began on the Westbank and that he hopes eventually ends in Canada, playing in the outfield for the Blue Jays.
As a 30th-round pick, making it to the show is probably a long shot. But that’s nothing new for Burl, who grew up in Marrero before his family evacuated to Dallas when Hurricane Katrina struck 10 years ago. The Burls lived with his aunt and uncle there.
“It was hard for me to understand the full impact of what it meant to my city and to my family and friends,” said Burl, a seventh-grader at the time. “But I remember my dad just watching the news all day for hours on end. He was watching CNN, NBC, Fox — everything. You could tell he was overwhelmed by what happened.”
Earl Burl II was a volunteer deputy sheriff for Plaquemines Parish at the time, so he had to return and help with the evacuations.
“And my mom’s a teacher, so it was hard for her too because she didn’t know where a lot of her students were,” Burl said.
The family remained with his aunt and uncle for a while, then stayed a few weeks in a hotel before eventually buying a house. Adjusting to Texas wasn’t easy for Burl.
“People were teasing me about how my city was under water,” he said.
But to this day, he still calls New Orleans his city.
“It always will be,” said Burl, who still has the 504 area code to prove it.
He eventually adjusted to life in Texas and appreciates the opportunities it gave him.
Burl, who said he likely would have attended St. Augustine if he had stayed in New Orleans, instead ended up at Sachse High School in suburban Dallas. He was a two-sport star there, earning all-district honors as a receiver in football and as a pitcher in baseball.
He signed with Alcorn, some seven hours away but just three hours from the place he grew up.
His time at Alcorn wasn’t always easy. He had problems with his shoulder as a freshman, when he was used primarily as a pitcher.
The .309 batting average he posted this season didn’t come easy, either. He broke his jaw in March in a game against Memphis, thanks to a scouting report that wasn’t as accurate as Burl needed it to be.
With an 0-1 count, the Memphis pitcher he faced that day usually followed up with a curveball. So Burl was expecting a hanging curve.
It never curved.
“By the time I realized it wasn’t curving, I turned my shoulder and it hit me in the back of my jaw,” Burl said.
Burl stayed in the game and stole second base. He found out his jaw was broken two days later. His mouth was wired for two weeks straight, forcing him to miss two weeks of the season. His diet of smoothies, juice and soup caused him to lose 18 pounds.
He called it the worst experience of his life.
Things were tough. Burl was tougher.
With a critical series against Jackson State coming up, he talked his doctor into letting him play.
It was hard to breathe with his mouth wired shut, but that didn’t stop him from hitting a home run in his first game back. It was one of his five homers on the season.
He didn’t make the All-SWAC honors, but he was one of seven players from the conference drafted this season.
He credits his success to his parents, mom Tanjala (who now teaches in Texas) and a father who works in Belle Chasse but travels back and forth to Texas.
“I saw the sacrifices my dad made, so I always worked hard in everything,” Burl said. “I always tell my parents how they inspired me to try to be the greatest.”
Burl isn’t just proud of the work ethic he got from his parents. He’s now also proud of that rhyming name, the one he didn’t like so much as a kid.
“It eventually worked to my advantage as I got older,” he said with a laugh. “I hear people at games saying it’s the greatest name in baseball. The name is almost free publicity. My dad always told me that I would be glad I had that name one day, because everybody would be talking about it and it would be easy to remember.
“So I’m just glad I’m Earl Burl the third.”