COLUMBIA — Missouri pitcher Kenny Burton knows how to bargain with 8-year olds.
When Missouri freshman designated hitter Kale Gaden hit his first career home run in the second inning of Missouri’s game with North Dakota on Thursday evening at Taylor Stadium, Burton darted out of the dugout and towards right field. He was determined to find the home run ball.
“I was going to get it,” Burton said. “There was no doubt.”
Burton and Gaden are both from Oklahoma and Burton said Gaden was the only person he knew when he came to Missouri. Their friendship made Burton determined in his quest to get Gaden’s trophy.
Burton found the ball being played with by two 8-year old boys near the right field foul pole. He didn’t want to take the ball from them, but he had no choice. He was able to convince them by bringing them a brand new baseball in exchange.
“They were hesitant at first, but they realized this was his first one, so it’s important,” Burton said.
Gaden was all smiles when Burton brought the ball to him, but said he was not surprised that Burton found it.
“He was persistent,” Gaden said.
Gaden was not convinced that he had hit a home run when the ball came off his bat.
“I was rounding first base like I was going for a double,” Gaden said. “I saw the outfielder slow down, so I was like, ‘man, I think that was out.’ I was kind of pumped.”
For Gaden, the home run is a huge sigh of relief. He has had a slow start, which has limited his playing time. With Thursday's performance, he hopes that he can increase his playing time and improve his hitting.
“Every start that I’ve gotten, I’ve really tried to work hard out there and show him what I got,” Gaden said. “I think today was a big step forward for me. I felt really good about that.”
Gaden’s home run was the first of four hit by the Tigers, who beat North Dakota 17-5. Missouri (8-6) scored 11 runs in the third inning, which included a monster home run by third baseman Brett Nicholas.
Nicholas said he admires how Gaden accepts his role as a bench player.
“It speaks to the kind of character that he is,” Nicholas said. “He comes to the ballpark ready to play just like he’s going to play every day. If he sees his name up in the lineup, he’s ready to go. If not, he’s on the bench, he’s cheering us on.”
Gaden thought he might have had his second home run in the third inning when he drilled an RBI double to centerfield, which almost cleared the fence.
Coach Tim Jamieson said he was not surprised with Gaden’s offensive explosion.
“Kale was probably one of our top three hitters in the fall,” Jamieson said. “We’re pulling for him because we know what he’s capable of. He’s got off to a slow start, kind of working him back in there.”
First baseman Aaron Senne said the team will find an appropriate way to haze Gaden for his accomplishment.
“Throw some garbage maybe,” Senne said. “Or whip him with a towel."
Starting pitcher Eric Anderson gave the Tigers four solid innings before exiting before the start of the fifth with Missouri ahead 14-3.
Missouri and North Dakota will play a double-header on Friday. The first game starts at 4 p.m., and the second will start 30-to-40 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.