A first-team All Mother Lode League infielder who starred at Summerville and graduated three years ago recently committed to play baseball at University of Nevada, Reno, where the Wolf Pack take on NCAA Division I competition in the Mountain West Conference.

Sam Burns was hard at work Tuesday at Summerville High School as a laborer with Peterson Excavation. He paused for a quick photo and to reflect on his path in baseball so far. Then he got back to work in 95-plus degree heat on a project out back of classroom buildings on Summerville’s campus in Tuolumne.

Burns, who is 21 years old now, always worked hard at baseball, too, his former varsity coach at Summerville, and his coach at Standard Field baseball camps when Burns was Little League age, 9 and 10 years old, Ricky Pinocchio, said Tuesday in a phone interview.

“When he was doubted by anyone, he had a chip on his shoulder to prove people wrong,” Pinocchio said. “He had a lot more heart than a lot of guys I’ve coached. He brought his passion to the game and he elevated the whole team by example.”

John Baldwin, the current Summerville varsity baseball coach, coached Burns when he played junior varsity at Summerville and Baldwin remembers Burns was devoted to learning offensive and defensive details of the game. He was a student of the game, a player who studied hard and practiced hard to play hard.

“He was already a very talented player when I coached him,” Baldwin said. “He worked twice as hard as everybody else. He has a great work ethic. He has a real advantage by how he studies the game. He’s really good at reading pitchers when he’s baserunning. He always took extra reps in the batting cage. He always took extra ground balls.”

In his senior season at Summerville, Burns was his team’s leadoff hitter in 21 games, batted .391 with 25 hits, 10 stolen bases, eight RBIs, 23 runs scored, and an on-base percentage of .519, to earn first-team All Mother Lode League as shortstop in May 2016.

Burns graduated from Summerville in 2016 and moved directly to Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County, where he played second base as a true freshman in 2017. Burns transferred to Merced College and took a redshirt year in 2018. He played 40 games at shortstop this year, batted .380 with 62 hits, two home runs, 26 runs batted in, 22 stolen bases, and 41 runs scored to earn 2019 first-team All Central Valley Conference infielder as well as Academic All-American honors at Merced College.

Burns said Tuesday he’s working full-time in underground construction for Peterson Excavation in Tuolumne County this summer. He grew up in the town of Tuolumne his first 14 years, and he lived in Twain Harte when he was at Summerville High.

Burns was playing baseball for Merced College in April, a month that included a 21-8 home win over Porterville, and a recruiting coordinator assistant coach from University of Nevada, Reno came to a game and invited Burns to visit the school on the Eastside Sierra.

He visited the same month, and people with the Wolf Pack baseball program invited Burns to stay so he committed to play Division 1 baseball for the school.

“They recruited me as a utility player, outfield or infield,” Burns said Tuesday. “I’d like to finish my education and finish my degree there.”

Burns has already earned his associate of arts degree at Merced College in human and social behavior. He said at University of Nevada, Reno he plans to major in human development and family studies.

Asked if he had any role models in the infield when he was growing up, Burns named Dustin Pedroia, a four-time All-Star and Gold Glove second baseman who helped the Boston Red Sox win World Series titles in 2007 and 2013, won American League Most Valuable Player and Silver Slugger awards in 2008, and remains under contract with the Red Sox through 2021.

“I like the fact he defied odds about expectations of size in the sport of baseball,” Burns said Tuesday. “Size doesn’t matter. It’s all about your mentality and your approach to each game.”

Asked what he’d emphasize about where he’s coming from and his next steps in baseball, Burns said he’s playing baseball and doing all he is because of all the hard work his father put in to make playing baseball his whole life a possibility. Greg Burns, died at age 48 in May 2018 and he’s remembered as one of the fastest, fiercest timber fallers in Tuolumne County.

The scoreboard at Jerry Whitehead Sr. Field in Tuolumne is named for Greg Burns, who coached Little League and his son Sam there for years. Greg Burns was also a U.S. Army veteran who served in Desert Storm.

The Wolf Pack at University of Nevada, Reno wear silver and navy blue and they are members of the Mountain West Conference. The school’s first baseball team took the field in 1957. Wolf Pack baseball teams have won conference championships 1994, 2000, 2012, 2015 and 2018. They’ve appeared in NCAA tournaments in 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2000.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.