Tim Burke knows what it means to sacrifice. A former all-star relief pitcher, Tim shocked the world of baseball on February 27, 1993 when he laid down his career and quietly walked away, retiring at the age of 34 to spend more time with his wife and five adopted, physically handicapped children.
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Tim's career spanned eight years, during which he went 49-33 with a 2.72 earned-run average and 102, saves, mostly with the Montreal Expos. He averaged more than $2 million in salary during his last three seasons. However, in the midst of the success and accolades, it all dimmed in comparison to the family at home who needed him.
Tim and his wife, Christine, chose to be parents to five ôspecial needs" children, all orphans from other countries. Stephanie, now 9 years old, was a premature baby born in South Korea. Ryan, who is also 9, was born in Guatemala with a thyroid condition and possible mental retardation (Tim flew to Central America immediately following the 1989 all-star game to pick him up). Nicole, 6 years old and also Korean, was born without a right hand and with a serious heart condition. Until just recently, she suffered up to 40 seizures a day. Wayne, a 7-year-old abandoned child from Vietnam, was born with a clubfoot and suffers from Hepatitis B. and Jacqueline, 4 years old, was born in Guatemala with a cleft lip and palate.
"Christine and I have both found that we just really have a heart for children with special needs," Tim stated. "We don't intend to stop with just five. The plans are already in the works for the next adoption."
Tim has absolutely no regrets about his decision to retire from professional baseball, even though the sport has been a part of his life since the early age of seven when he played little league in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. Tim continued to play baseball all through his early school years, and began receiving scholarship offers by the time he reached high school. The decision was made to attend nearby University of Nebraska, where the Pittsburgh Pirates recruited him in 1980, just after his junior year.
Tim is the first to admit that during those first couple of years, baseball totally consumed him. The realization that he would be replaced if he didn't produce weighed heavily on his mind, and he handled that pressure by drinking. When he married Christine in May of 1982, the marriage was immediately shaky, until they both found themselves making spiritual commitments in August of that same year. Christine says, "When we became Christians, circumstances didn't change and our difficulties didn't change, but we had a new strength to help us through the problems.
During the next few years, Tim advanced through the Pittsburgh, Yankee and Expos systems, reaching the majors in 1985. All was going well except for the fact that he and Christine found that they wouldn't be able to have any children of their own. "We did discuss the possibility of adoption," Tim stated, "but I didn't think I could love somebody else's child." At that point, and without Tim's knowledge, Christine quietly began praying for them to have the same point of view.
"About a year later," Tim continued, "we were driving one day in Omaha and, out of the blue, I said I wanted to adopt a Korean girl. I was just as surprised as Christine was. I know that I may have had the ability to change my own mind, but God had to change my heart."
Through a friend, Tim and Christine found out about Holt International Children's Services of Eugene, Oregon. Holt has placed thousands of mostly mixed children since the Korean conflict. After an investigation and waiting period, Holt finally called and said they had a baby girl, Stephanie, for Tim and Christine. After Stephanie came, Tim and Christine decided to open their home to more children. Continuing their relationship with Holt, they chose to adopt their other three special children.
Although Tim was still in the midst of a successful career in baseball, his family struggle hit him the hardest in 1991 when he had to walk away from his 10-month-old daughter Nicole only an hour after she had undergone open heart surgery. The night before, he had been traded from the Yankees to the Mets, and had to fly to New York immediately following Nicole's operation.
As his struggle mounted, Tim went through the next year with a heavy heart and a lot on his mind. He considered retiring after the '92 season, but became a free agent and was contracted by the Cincinnati Reds, who offered him a non-guaranteed contract. However, as Tim went through the first few days of practice at the Red's camp, he realized that his heart was not with baseball anymore. He knew what was most important and he knew he had to leave. "Baseball is going to do just fine without me," Tim told the Los Angeles Times. "It's not going to miss a beat. But I'm the only father my children have and the only husband my wife has. They need me."
As Tim looks ahead at what the future holds, he only knows for sure that he will be with his family. He and Christine don't know how big that family will be, but they say there is plenty of room in their hearts for more children.
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