Yes, thankfully, Giants bullpen catcher Alex Burg survived his viral video moment

Yes, thankfully, Giants bullpen catcher Alex Burg survived his viral video moment

SAN FRANCISCO — Cellphones blew up among San Francisco Giants relief pitchers Tuesday morning. They buzzed with one text after another from players across the league. The messages all contained some variation of the same question.

Dude, is your bullpen catcher dead or alive?

“Look, here’s another one,” said right-hander Luke Jackson, as he received a text from former Atlanta Braves teammate Kyle Wright.

Alex Burg, the person whose mortality was an open question, received more texts than anyone else. More than four dozen of them before noon, he estimated. Burg wasn’t visible in the viral video that captured the moment the lights went out at the Giants’ waterfront ballpark Monday night. But enough people surmised who was on the receiving end of the warmup pitch as it left closer Camilo Doval’s fingertips.

It was Burg, and yes, he lived to tell the tale. He actually caught the ball, too.

“You can’t teach these hands,” he said, smiling.

Not everyone in uniform found humor in the situation. Burg was wearing a helmet and facemask but not a chest protector. He acknowledged matter-of-factly: if the pitch had struck him in the sternum, it could have seriously injured him, or even stopped his heart.

“If I wouldn’t have caught it, obviously this interview is slightly different,” Burg said. “But since I caught it, it’s just funny, and hope it doesn’t happen again. It’s obviously scarier when it’s a guy who throws a billion miles an hour.”

Pitch dark has never been so literal.

“It was scary,” Giants bullpen coach Garvin Alston said. “The lights came back on and I said to him, ‘Are you good?’ And he said, ‘I’m not sure.’”

“He just kind of appeared all wide-eyed,” right-hander Sean Hjelle said. “He had the ball, 10 fingers, 10 toes, one head, four limbs. He was all good.”

Burg was just grateful that the pitch was a four-seam fastball.

“If it had been a sinker or a slider, I probably would have died,” Burg said. “No chance at catching that, it’s so nasty. But the four-seamer stays pretty true, especially in the ‘pen. So it gave me a better shot to catch it.”

Doval was warming up to take the mound in the ninth inning with the Giants holding a 5-1 lead over the New York Mets. It wasn’t a save situation, but it was Doval’s first home appearance in a night game — and the first opportunity for the ballpark operations and entertainment teams to show off the capabilities of the stadium’s newly installed LED lighting. The ballpark went dark for two or three seconds and then bathed the field in orange light, as if everyone was under an enormous infrared heat lamp. A white spotlight attempted to follow Doval as he jogged to the mound.

Doval said he felt like he was starring in a movie. The fans oohed and ahhed. The entire spectacle seemed to go as intended — except for cutting the lights a few seconds too soon.

“I knew they were going to do something but obviously I didn’t know when it was going to happen,” Burg said. “So that was a little bit of a shock that it happened right when he was releasing the ball. But I thought it was really cool to see him go out there with all the lights off. Gotta work on the spotlight a little bit, but it was really cool to see him do that.”

Burg said he heard from several former Giants coaches including Craig Albernaz and Andrew Bailey. He also heard from people across the organization who offered profuse apologies, including general manager Pete Putila, who pledged that measures would be taken so something like this wouldn’t happen again. Marco Nicola, the club’s senior director of live experience and entertainment, intercepted Burg on the field after batting practice and offered an apology along with a gift: a 300-lumen headlamp.

“Which is hilarious,” said Burg, who also received a gift card from the team.

Burg, 36, was the Giants’ 24th-round selection out of Washington State in 2009 and played nine professional seasons, making it as high as Triple A while bouncing to the Miami Marlins, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations. He said his time with the Rangers included occlusion training, which involved turning off the lights mid-pitch against machines in the cage. But nothing prepared him for catching one of those pitches — especially from a right-hander, Doval, who has been clocked as high as 103 mph.

Burg was a run production coordinator for the Rangers from 2019-21 and returned to the Giants as a bullpen catcher in 2022. Before this season, he was elevated to catching coach by new manager Bob Melvin.

Not everyone in the organization had Burg’s sense of humor about the incident. First baseman Wilmer Flores said he was in a similar predicament when the lights went out. He was preparing to receive a warmup throw from third baseman Matt Chapman.

It wasn’t long ago that former Giants first baseman Brandon Belt was concussed during batting practice when struck in the head by a thrown ball from Marco Scutaro. In recent days, former Giants Jakob Junis and Joey Bart also were injured in pregame drills when struck by batted balls. Bart was warming up a Pittsburgh Pirates teammate in the bullpen when he was struck on the head by a batting practice home run.

Doval, a first-time All-Star last season, said he appreciated the extra love that the team is showing him before his appearances. His bullpen mates enjoy it, too.

“He’s definitely earned it,” Hjelle said. “He’s one of the top closers in the game. It’s a cool milestone for a closer to have that level of respect and love from the fan base and in the stadium. You could see his face light up when it happened, like, ‘Wow, this is for me.’ It was cool to see that firsthand.”

Burg said he isn’t concerned that he’ll have to catch a 100 mph fastball in the dark again. But he might wear a chest protector next time, just in case.

“It’s the first time they’re doing it,” Burg said. “I’m sure they were excited to do it. So I’m OK with them jumping the gun. I’m excited about it, too.”

(Photo of Doval pitching on Tuesday night: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

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