VALDOSTA -- The life of Jason Bulger, professional baseball player, has begun.

The former Valdosta State standout had his first taste of pro baseball this fall, playing in the Arizona Fall League.

"It was really good competition," said Bulger, who was back in Valdosta this past week. He was honored at halftime of VSU's basketball game Thursday night.

Bulger was Valdosta State's first-ever first-round draft choice. He was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks and signed after a summer-long negotiation session.

"The negotiations did drag on, but everything was a positive. There was never any name calling or arguing," Bulger said. "The Diamondbacks have treated me great."

He's already had to deal with change. He was supposed to work out in Arizona then play in an Australian league, but that was cancelled because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Then he was made a starting pitcher for the Scottsdale, Ariz., team. Bulger was 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA. He pitched four times, including three starts. In 12 innings he gave up 14 hits and four walks, striking out seven.

"I learned you've got to keep the ball down," Bulger said. "Everybody can hit a bad pitch, no matter where you throw it ... I tried to challenge hitters there.

"I worked on my mechanics. I got a chance to work with two Cy Young winners (Mark Davis and John Denny). I had a good time out there."

The Arizona League consists of six teams where the 30 major league teams are supposed to supply six prospects each. Most of the players are supposed to be Class AA or Class AAA level talent, with a few exceptions. Bulger was one -- and one of 25 first-round picks who were scheduled to play in the fall league.

Bulger will report to the Arizona Diamondbacks' spring-training camp in February before settling with one of the World Series champion's minor league teams. Bulger says there's a chance he'll start in Class AA (El Paso).

"That's not set. We'll see what happens in spring training," Bulger said. "But Class AA is my goal right now."

Bulger, who turns 23 Thursday, went 7-2 with seven saves and a 1.47 ERA for Valdosta State last year, winning all-conference and all-region honors. Bulger, who struck out 64 in 49 innings, also hit .345 and stole 22 bases.



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