The promising baseball career of a 1991 Fairfax graduate almost ended just as it started. Billy Pulsipher took the mound for the New York Mets in 1995, riding a wave of confidence, but injuries and depression would take a toll on his career soon after.
"Injuries can certainly alter your career," said Bill Pulsipher's father, William. "Some pitchers come back from them earlier than others."
In the spring of 1996 Pulsipher blew out his elbow. After the surgery, the Mets sent him back to the minor leagues for rehabilitation. It took Pulsipher a few years to get back in shape for the Major League. He was traded to Milwaukee, where he pitched for almost two years before being traded back to the Mets. A year later, in 2001, Pulsipher spent time playing in Boston and in Chicago with the White Socks, but setbacks caused by injuries and depression forced the left-handed pitcher to quit the game for some time. Instead of playing baseball, Pulsipher found himself mowing the fields in Florida. The love of the game saw him return to baseball, where he played in minor leagues for a few years.
After bouncing around the minor leagues, Pulsipher finally found his rhythm again. The long and winding road took him to St. Louis, where in 2005 he was the relief pitcher for the Cardinals.
"He was very excited last year after he made the Cardinals," said his father, William Pulsipher.
Pulsipher was drafted into the majors straight from high school. In 1991, the New York Mets drafted the pitcher in the second round of the amateur draft, 66th pick overall.
"He's the best pitcher we've had at Fairfax. He went pretty much where we expected [in the draft]," said Tom Verbanic, the Fairfax baseball coach at the time, after Pulsipher was picked in 1991.
The 17-year-old hurler was excited about the prospect of playing for the Mets organization. "Being picked by the Mets was just great. They have the best pitching staff in baseball and in the minor leagues they really develop you. They have a reputation of taking care of their players," said Pulsipher after the draft (Fairfax Connection, 1991).
HE GAVE UP a full scholarship to Old Dominion University in order to sign with the Mets. While in high school, the left hander was contacted by every one of the 26 Major League teams. His father said it was not difficult for Pulsipher to make the decision to go to the pros instead of college. He said teams made lucrative offers, and promised to secure Pulsipher's education as well.
The four-time All-Potomac District selectee led the Rebels to a 17-4 record his senior season. He recorded a 9-2 season on the mound, with a 1.36 earned run average and a school record 126 strikeouts. The hurler also delivered offensively, batting at .429, hitting five home runs and 31 RBI's. Pulsipher's pitch was clocked in at 87 miles per hour.
"There was a lot of pressure on me this [senior] season, but it was fun pressure," said Pulsipher in June of 1991.
It was not only his strength that made Pulsipher a force in the high school games. At 6-foot-4, he towered over the other pitchers in the region. A number of Major League scouts had come out to the Fairfax games to watch Pulsipher throw rockets past opposition batters. The former Pittsburgh Pirates scout Chuck Faris said in 1991: "Pulsipher projects real well because of his size. You look at what he might look like at 21 and it's like 'Wow!'"
After four years of impressive displays in the minor leagues - Baseball America ranked him 12th among pro prospects - Pulsipher got his chance to shine in the Big Apple.
"We're bringing him up with the intention he'll be here a while," said the Mets General Manager Joe McIlvaine in June of 1995. "We're bringing him up and cutting him loose."
Pulsipher responded to the invitation saying he does not expect to win a lot of games for the Mets, but he expected to hold his own. His father said it was something his son had wanted since he was three years old.
"He's always loved baseball," said his father.
SIZE AND STRENGTH were also applied in his days of playing high school basketball. Jim Smith, the McLean basketball coach at the time, remembered a play in which his senior guard, Nate Friends, was fouled at the buzzer of a regional tournament game. "Pulsipher wiped [Friends] out. They had to peal [Friends] off the floor," said Smith,
As much of a force as Pulsipher may have been in basketball, his main sport remained baseball. Headlines from the time period are full of praise for the 6-foot-4 pitcher. In a 6-1 win over rival Annandale, in 1991, Pulsipher broke the game in the sixth inning. The game was tied until the sixth, but the giant on the Rebels squad nailed a grand slam to break the game open. He also threw 13 strikeouts that game.
As of this year, Pulsipher is back in the Atlantic Professional Baseball League, where he is the pitcher for the Long Island Ducks, a team he led to its first league championship in 2004, before making the Cardinals squad last year. So far this season, Pulsipher holds a 3-1 record and has thrown 27 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched for the Ducks.
Billy Pulsipher is 45 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.