Valdosta Daily Times

June 1, 2013

VSU’s Bulger eyeing return to pro baseball next year

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Jason Bulger is hoping his professional baseball playing days aren’t done just yet.

The 34-year-old former first round draft pick out of Valdosta State is hoping an offseason shoulder surgery that cost him the entire 2013 season will solve lingering issues that have plagued him over the past few years, and open a door back into professional baseball in 2014.

The decision for the surgery came after some offseason workouts for various teams that didn’t go very well. Bulger, known for his power in college and early in his career, was struggling and couldn’t get the ball into the upper 80’s.

“I started throwing bullpens early in the offseason knowing I was going to have to throw in front of teams to get into spring training,” said Bulger, who was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 22nd overall pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft. “I probably threw seven or eight bullpens, but the pain was too much. I was throwing maybe mid to high 80’s.”

Surgery was Bulger’s only option if he wanted to play baseball again. Even now, it is a long shot. But if there is a shot, Bulger is going to go after it.

“You can’t throw in the low 80’s and play pro baseball,” Bulger said. “With shoulders it is always up in the air. I was told about six to eight months recovery time. I am on schedule for that, but it all depends on when I pick up a ball, which isn’t for another month. The shoulder is really kind of a crap shoot. You don’t know if you are going to come back. There is so much involved with the shoulder. It is just a funny joint.”

Bulger, who graduated from Brookwood High School in Gwinnett County and finished his collegiate career at VSU in the early 2000’s, underwent shoulder surgery in February, repairing an injury that sent him to the disabled list several times since the 2006 season.

The surgery isn’t the first of Bulger’s career, though.

In 2003, the 6-foot-4 Bulger had Tommy John Surgery, an injury that requires 12-to-14 months of recovery, to repair on injured elbow.  

“I am kind of going back to that,” Bulger said. “I was using motivational things to get back then and I have more now, with a family and all. I want to get back there and get back to the highest level and let my kids see me play.

“It is frustrating to miss this year and watch the highlights on SportsCenter every day and watch my friends and teammates. It is frustrating.”

Bulger bounced back from Tommy John Surgery just fine, working his way into the majors.

In 2009, with the Los Angeles Angels — where he spent six seasons — Bulger was pitching every 2 1/2 games out of the bullpen, posting a solid 3.56 earned run average with a 6-1 record and 68 strikeouts in 65.2 innings pitched.  

That 2009 season was his best, even though he fought through shoulder pain just prior to the start of the playoffs.

By 2011, the former first rounder was designated for assignment after five early season appearances with the Angels, bouncing to the Twins organization and eventually making a stop with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Class AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees.

“Every pitcher is going to have some nagging shoulder discomfort throughout their career. I had successful years until last year, when I was throwing in a game and then my shoulder just went,” Bulger said. “It was right before the all-star break. I was actually having a good game and then it just went. What made it worse was it happened like a week before we were going to Gwinnett to play the AAA Braves. I was going to get to throw in front of all my family and former Valdosta State teammates.

“I have gone through so many injures and I know my body; I knew it was pretty significant.”

Since the surgery, Bulger goes through rehab sessions three times a week and spends the majority of his time with his wife Janice and their two children at their Chandler, Ariz. home.

“I am Mr. Mom around here,” Bulger joked. “The injury is a blessing in disguise. I am spending an entire summer with my family, which doesn’t happen too often. I am getting to see my kids grow up and spend a lot of time with my family.”

Bulger will turn 35 before the start of next season, and he has already started to think about post-baseball life. Sales experience runs through his family and he says finance has turned his eye in recent years, jumping into the stock market with heavy interest. But, for now, the focus is on a return to baseball.

“I have a couple of ideas of what I want to do when baseball is over,” Bulger said. “I got my degree in business management from Valdosta....Right now, my focus is on baseball. It is a long shot that I will be able to come back but I will focus on baseball until I am told I can’t play anymore.”

If his baseball career does come to an end sometime in the near future, Bulger knows how blessed he has been and how quickly it has all gone.

“I thought about how quick my pro career has gone and it feels like the other day I was breaking into the minors,” he said. “I have played professionally for 12 years. It is a fun game and a unique experience. I met my wife because of baseball. It is a such a great experience and it goes by so fast. I am so lucky to play this game for so long.”