Atkinson’s LL coach still with him

Justin Atkinson

* C Justin Atkinson (Surrey, BC), who is moving behind the plate this spring, is a special player and keeps his special memories of his coach on his shoulder. ….   

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Jays’ Atkinson memorializes Little League coach with tattoo

By Jess Patton
DUNEDIN, FLA.,- There is always that one coach.

For Justin Atkinson, a minor-league prospect for the Toronto Blue Jays, it was his old Little League coach Joe Burns, who shaped him as a player and a person.

Burns was more than a coach – he was a mentor who provided advice and looked out for Atkinson until his untimely passing in 2008 at the age of 47.

“He was a big, big factor in my career,” said Atkinson after finishing up a morning spring training practice at the Bobby Mattick training facility in Dunedin. “I was with him from eight or nine-years-old till about 14, 15 and then he passed away in 2008 and that’s where I kind of took off.”

The Surrey, B.C., native, who was drafted in the 26th round by the Jays in 2001, spent his adolescence under Burns with the Whalley Little League team, making two Little League World Series appearances.

Burns’ presence was so influential in the 24-year-old’s life that after his passing Atkinson got a tattoo to remember him. The homage to his late coach is a picture of a cross and baseball with banners of his name and years of birth and death written over top.

“I’ve got the tattoo on my shoulder so he’s with me everywhere,” said Atkinson. “It was my first tattoo too in grade 10.”

It has been difficult for Atkinson to keep in touch with Burns’ family but he does try to keep in contact with his wife and children through Facebook.

Life may have gotten in the way but he will never forget his old coach.

“On Joe’s birthday and on the day he passed away, its always a special day for everyone around him,” said Atkinson. “I always take the time to say a prayer.”

Atkinson has turned to his father for advice and motivation since the passing of Burns. It has been especially needed for the upcoming season because the Jays have convinced Atkinson to change from his regular position as an infielder to catcher.

“I know they’ve been wanting to do it for awhile now and I finally bought in,” said Atkinson. “I was always set on playing in the infield, I didn’t really want to give that up yet but they convinced me to convert to a catcher.”

His dad helped him make the decision and see the benefit that the change could provide.

“He always tells me ‘keep going, don’t look back’, especially with the position changes and stuff,” said Atkinson. “’They’re doing this because they like you, and they want you in the lineup so you have the opportunity to play.’”

The 21-year-old hit .291, with 77 hits and 29 runs batted in for the Jays single-A affiliate the Lansing Lugnuts last season.

“My average and the way that I am hitting portrays a catcher, so if that’s going to be the case, why wouldn’t I catch?” said Atkinson. “Make it through the system quicker as a catcher than moving around as an infielder.”

Scott Harrigan
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