Bryan Bullington is arguably the greatest pitcher in Ball State history, if not the greatest player period. His name appears in the BSU record book 18 times and he still holds the program records for career and season wins and strikeouts. He’s also the only player in Mid-American Conference history to be taken with the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft. Bullington went on to play seven seasons in the minors and parts of five in the Major Leagues. He made his big league debut with the Pirates, who drafted him, in 2005. In 2010 he picked up his first win, beating the Yankees while a member of the Kansas City Royals.
Now a member of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in the Japanese Central League, Bullington is 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA in 2013. This is his third year playing in Japan.
BallStateSports.com’s Joel Godett spoke with Bullington from Japan via Skype, discussing anything from his current status to his time playing professionally stateside and his best memories at Ball State. Below are several excerpts from that conversation, which is available in full on Ball State All-Access.
On his current job playing in Japan:
"When you’re playing at home, and especially coming right out of college, it’s something you never imagine yourself doing, playing internationally. I knew nothing about the league over here 10 years ago. As you spend more time in triple-A and talk to more guys that have come over here about the experience and the opportunity as your career moves in that direction, and you’re and up and down guy at home and you’re spending a lot of time in triple-A and you’re moving your family all over the place. When it came to me three years ago we were a little unsure about the process, my wife and I talked a lot about it and we have three young kids and it was something that we thought we’d give a try."
"You know we’re 30 years old and only have so many years left in baseball, so let’s go ahead and try to make the most of this experience and we’ve loved every minute of it. I got off to a good start my first year here and we’ve really made Hiroshima our second home. The people treat us great over here. It’s an amazing culture and probably the safest place in the world you can live. Baseball is obviously very different over here but at the same time you learn a lot about the game and you learn a lot about yourself and ways to approach the game."
"The home situation is pretty much the same. You have your home clubhouse and you go to the field fairly early and show up in your street clothes. When we go on the road our laundry is delivered back to us at the hotel. Kind of like in a college situation, you put your uniform on and you go hop on the bus. You show up at the field and in 15 minutes you’re out there stretching…That definitely takes some getting used to."
"Each team has their own cheering section and the cheering section is usually in the outfield. It’s pretty much constant noise and chants. It feels more like an international soccer game than a baseball feel. My first experience in a spring training game you feel like you’re in a different world, like ‘this isn’t baseball.’ You’re playing in front of eight thousand people at a triple-A game or even a lot of big league games are drawing ten to eleven thousand. It’s pretty quiet. My wife mentioned this morning, we were flipping through channels here and the Yankees - Arizona game was on and it was just so quiet. It just becomes the norm that you expect that energy from the crowd."
On when he decided Ball State was right for him:
"I definitely don’t think it was written in at birth. Obviously my parents both went to Ball State and then when I was in high school my sister decided to go to Ball State as well. We definitely had a family pedigree going to Ball State. The recruiting process for me really began my junior year. Coach Lowery, who was the pitching coach at the time, saw me throw a couple times in the summer. That was kind of my first introduction to the program at Ball State. As time went on I got to know coach Maloney pretty well through some recruiting visits and him coming to watch me play."
"For me, the recruiting thing was pretty much within the state of Indiana. I didn’t have a lot of exposure outside the state from a summer ball standpoint. The main schools that were recruiting me were Ball State, Purdue, Evansville and Indiana. I just really hit it off well with coach Lowery and obviously coach Maloney as well. It just seemed like the right fit at the time."
On becoming the Friday night starter as a freshman:
"It was kind of sudden. You come in the fall and you’re getting your feet wet. We had a large freshman class that year. They had a lot of guys leave the previous year. There was a lot of talent coming in and it was kind of everybody just figuring out where they fit in and what opportunities were going to be there. We had some veteran pitching coming back, but at the same time we lost a few of those guys to injury early in the season and when we got back to the Midwest it was just getting that opportunity. I had a good couple outings early on and it just kind of fell in my lap to a certain extent. It just kind of took off from there."
On pitching after getting hit by a line drive as a sophomore:
"We had a really good team that year. We won the regular season MAC and were hosting the tournament and we’re all fired up going into the game. Our first game in the tournament I think I hit the first batter of the game and the second batter hits a line drive off my face. Not the start you’d expect…At that point you have that adrenaline going. We’re in the midst of the MAC tournament; you’re trying to get into the NCAA tournament. I felt I could go in a couple days and that was the decision we made. I went back out there and tried to do it. The results weren’t all that great but at that point you’re trying to win a game and have your team move on, so that was the direction we went."
On pitching on short rest in the 2002 MAC Tournament:
"It was another situation where we were trying to get to the NCAA tournament. I think it was more a situation of how bad that first outing went and wanting to get back out there and show them what you can do and trying to win a game for the team. I felt like I was fine from a health standpoint, arm standpoint. Obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted but just being able to go out there and step up for your team and try to win a game. You don’t get those opportunities anymore in pro ball to come back on short rest and to step up and try to be the guy very often. Those are good memories."
On his memories of Coach Rich Maloney:
"It’s not really one moment. It’s just the overall integrity and character he brings. He can sway it all the way from being fiery when he needs to and get into somebody and really motivate him that way. But at the same time I think he really just deeply cares about everybody he’s coaching from a staff member all the way down to the 25th or 26th guy on the team."
On being the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2002:
"It’s a mixed bag. Obviously it’s an unbelievable honor. I wouldn’t change it at all. But at the same time there’s a lot of pressure that comes along with it. Every time you’re going out there there’s a target on your back. Those other guys in the other dugout are wanting to get you. That’s certainly something that not everybody deals with in the minor leagues. I feel like I had a successful career in the states but at the same time I don’t think I probably lived up to a lot of the expectation that was there. But at the same time, with the way things transpired from a health standpoint and from an opportunity standpoint I think I hung in there. To still be playing at 32 and being able to experience all that I have, I certainly have no regrets. But there’s a lot that goes along with it from an expectation and a pressure standpoint."
On his best memory of pitching in the Major Leagues:
"From an on-the-field standpoint there’s no doubt it was the game beating the Yankees. Beating that team and that lineup, just the way that game was, being able to go eight and only give up two hits. I remember they told me I was done after eight, and just going into the tunnel for a second before I came back out to watch the ninth. It just kind of sits with you, if I never get this opportunity again or this is it, it’s certainly worth it."