Staff Photo: John Bohn Brookwood graduate Jason Bulger plays for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Bulger, a pitcher who is injured, is home playing the Gwinnett Braves at Coolray Field.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- It's safe to say Jason Bulger has been through a lot throughout his 11-season professional baseball career.
However, the Lawrenceville native and 1997 Brookwood grad has never had to deal with so much in a single season than he has in 2012.
"I thought I'd dealt with quite a bit in my career, but there have definitely been some curveballs thrown this year," Bulger said a few hours before his Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees took on the Gwinnett Braves on Friday at Coolray Field.
Among those curveballs thrown Bulger's way this season has been nagging injuries, including a sore bicep on his pitching arm that currently has the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander on the disabled list.
But he's dealt with those aches and pains, and worse, throughout his career.
The ups and downs, and uncertainty, of the past eight months have been perhaps the biggest tests to Bulger's patience and perseverance he's ever faced.
First came his release from the Los Angeles Angels, an organization he spent the past six years with and making 116 major league appearances during that time, including four postseason appearances in 2009, last November.
Then came an ill-fated spring training stint with the Minnesota Twins, followed by a new lease on life from the New York Yankees organization.
Through it all, Bugler keeps on going, determined to make his way back to the major leagues, for one main reason.
"I play this game, and I play at this level, because I still believe I can compete at the highest level," Bulger said. "Once I believe I can't do that, then I'll look to other avenues other than playing. But I still believe I can get big-league hitters out."
That was something the 2001 first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks had trouble with during a nightmarish spring training with Minnesota, during which he allowed 10 earned runs on eight hits and five walks in four innings before being released on April 1.
"It was just a lack of command early in spring," Bulger said. "I walked way too many guys, and that's the last thing you want to do when you're trying to make a team, and I paid for it. But it was just spring training and I made the adjustments. And knock on wood, the season's been successful when it comes to throwing strikes."
Indeed, Bulger has had a much better time throwing strikes since being signed to a minor-league contract by the Yankees' organization less than a week after being released by the Twins.
The 33-year-old posted a 2-1 record with a 3.41 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 21 walks over 34 innings before being put on the disabled list July 12.
Perhaps the strangest part of the 2012 season has nothing to do with baseball.
Due to renovations being made to their stadium, the Scranton Yankees have had to play the entire season on the road -- with home games played in towns throughout upstate New York, including Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Batavia, as well as Allentown, Pa., and Pawtucket, R.I.
Compounding the team's nomadic trek for Bulger has been the fact his family -- wife Janice, who is expecting the couple's second child, and son Brenden -- have spent most of the season in their offseason home in Arizona.
"The beginning of the season, it wasn't too bad," Bulger said. "We played a number of games in Rochester. So, it was almost like Rochester was our home. At this point in the season, it's very difficult just from the fact that I'm married and my wife is pregnant. It's very difficult for (my family) to travel. We don't have a lot of contact.
"It's very lonely, but I'm fortunate enough to have a very supportive wife. She's encouraged me. She understands this game. She's been around it long enough to understand the benefits of possibly being in the big leagues. She's been my biggest motivation."
In addition to being able to see Janice and Brendan, just returning home to Gwinnett County and seeing his extended family during Scranton's weekend series with the G-Braves has been a shot in the arm for his spirits, even if he is still unable to pitch while rehabbing his injured arm.
"It's been 15 years since I've gotten to play in Gwinnett County," Bulger said. "I think the last time was when I was in high school in 1997. So, to be able to come back here is one of the biggest joys I've had in baseball. I've been very fortunate to play at the highest level, and even in the postseason in some of the biggest stadiums. But this ranks up there. I just wish I could play. That's the only down (side)."
Still, things are looking up for Bulger.
His arm is feeling better as his rehab continues, and he is optimistic he will be ready to pitch again very soon.
He is equally optimistic that he can continue the steady progress he made this season and perhaps give the Yankees organization something to think about as they look to bolster the bullpen for the big club in New York.
"I had some pictures taken (of the arm) and everything came back looking good," Bulger said. "Hopefully in the next couple of days, I'll be starting my long toss (program) and get back out there pretty quick.
"It was tough timing (on the injury), but that's not to say I can't get back and finish the season healthy and hopefully still have an opportunity to contribute at the big-league level."