Professional baseball players who progress through the minor leagues must feel increased pressure each year of the career that passes without getting called up to the Major Leagues. After all, that puts them one year closer to being possibly out of baseball, and in many cases facing an uncertain future. I always thought that must be one of the toughest aspects of professional baseball; knowing when to give up and when to keep striving to make the Big Leagues.
Aaron Fultz pitched eight seasons in the minor leagues before finally getting the call. I am sure it must have been tough for him to wait so long, but it turned out that he made the right decision about sticking with the game, because it paid off with an eight season Major League career. It is not often that players go that long before getting called up or being cut, but Fultz survived that gauntlet.
Drafted in the 6th round in 1992 by the San Francisco Giants, the left-handed pitcher had just one season of college ball under his belt when he decided to turn pro. He began his minor league career as a starter, even winning 14 games in his second year. However, in late 1993 he was traded to the Minnesota Twins as part of a deal that brought Jim Deshaies to the Giants. Fultz languished for several seasons in the Twins’ system, putting up lousy won/loss records, but good strikeout numbers and earned run averages. He was never able to break into the upper levels of their system and after the 1995 season, he was released. However, within two weeks he signed as a free agent with the Giants.
Resigning with the Giants seems to have jump started Fultz’s career. He was turned into a reliever, and spent several seasons with AA and AAA teams, getting his bullpen seasoning. After a stellar spring training with the Giants in 2000, he made the team out of camp and never looked back.
In researching this entry I had assumed that Fultz was a one-out guy because he was a lefty, but I was wrong. Over his career he actually averaged more than an inning per appearance. He pitched 2000-2007 with the Giants, Rangers, Twins, Phillies, and Indians, appearing in 463 games, all but one in relief. He posted a 25-15 record with 3 saves and a 4.26 ERA. More information on his career stats can be found at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/fultzaa01.shtml .
In life it can often be tough to make the right decisions. Aaron Fultz made a great one in sticking with baseball, despite taking a little extra time to reach the Majors. Though never a star, he was a solid player for a number of years, pitched in 3 post seasons, including the 2002 World Series, and got to witness one of the greatest modern spectacles in baseball, during the Barry Bonds home run chase in 2001. It is a story like this that gives all players out there the hope and will to continue for one more day because through patience, anything is possible.
Interview with Aaron Fultz:
How did you first get interested in baseball?: Baseball was the only thing I ever really did. The city where I’m from, basketball and football are okay, but baseball was always what we did.
Who was your favorite players growing up?: Well I have two. Mike Schmidt was my favorite because if you remember watching the year he won MVP and went to the World Series 1980 when I was 7. And then, also, Nolan Ryan because he was the best pitcher of the era. I actually got to meet both of them and that was pretty cool.
What was it like getting drafted by the Giants in 1992?: Well I actually graduated in ’91 and was drafted by the Reds in like the 41st round. But I went to college for a year instead and got drafted by the Giants. That was the whole reason for me going to a junior college.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Dusty Baker is my favorite manager. I think he was the best manager I ever had. I didn’t see any of that [mishandling pitching staffs] when I played for him. I have read that, but to me he’s a good man and a great manager.
What pitches did you throw?: Fastball, curveball, changeup, and slider. In my prime my fastball was probably 89 to 93. But anywhere from 86 to 91, typically at the end.
You pitched for eight seasons in the minor leagues before getting called up. Was there ever a point where you doubted that it was going to happen?: Yeah, I think any player in the minor leagues does. I spent 3 or 4 years in A ball, so that’s kind of the way it was for me. As soon as I advanced out of A ball it moved very quickly. After you are playing for so long and you see players you played with or against keep moving up and you’re still there, it does get pretty frustrating.
What was it like being part of the 2001 Giants during Barry Bonds home run chase?: It was really impressive just watching him do what he did. I was actually on second base when he hit number 72, so that was actually really cool. Watching what he did the last part of the year was just super impressive. He’d only get one pitch to hit and he wouldn’t miss it.
How was Bonds as a teammate?: Barry was always really, really good to me. He treated me really well. He treated my kids really well. We didn’t socialize off the field a whole lot, but he was a good teammate.
If you could go back and do your career over, is there anything you would change?: With me I would have rather went to college first just because I’m kind of egotistical and I guess I want a college degree and it’s harder to go back now. That’s the only thing I would change would be just me going to school.
Was it difficult to transition from being a professional athlete to “private” life when you retired?: No, not too bad, only because physically my arm really couldn’t handle it too well. I was throwing from 89, 90 to 82, 83, so physically I didn’t really have it any more. I hate to put it like that, but that’s the way it was. I’ve opened up a baseball academy here in my hometown and it’s going pretty well.
Do you envision eventually getting back into professional baseball as a coach?: I got two kids. One’s a senior in high school and the other one is in eighth grade. I‘m actually trying to get back into scouting right now. I would have somewhat control, of my schedule. Coaching, I don’t know… It may be when my younger kid gets out of school I probably would like to.
What is the strangest thing you ever saw during a baseball game?: [long pause] I guess it would probably have to be Cleveland when we were playing in the fifth inning and got about a foot of snow. We got snowed out after four innings.