Eric Bullock received a football and a baseball scholarship to play for Cal State Fullerton, but one sport he considered an occupation, the other a hobby.
“I wanted to crush bodies, not fastballs,” said Bullock, who envisioned playing in the NFL.
But the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Bullock became an object and not the perpetrator of punishment. He was a Titan on the medical charts.
Within two years, he dislocated his left shoulder, tore ligaments in his left knee and broke a bone in his right foot while playing quarterback and defensive back.
His dream fell apart, body part by body part.
“I think after knee and shoulder surgery I got the hint that football wasn’t my sport,” said Bullock, who graduated from South Gate High. “It was time to find another dream. You only get one body.”
Bullock, a Carson resident, was back in Los Angeles May 13-15 as a reserve outfielder for the Montreal Expos. He made three appearances against the Dodgers as a pinch-hitter.
“I think things have turned out pretty well for me,” said Bullock, who began the season making the major league minimum of $100,000 a year. “At first I really didn’t enjoy playing baseball that much. I played because I didn’t like running track and I wanted something to do to pass the time.”
Bullock, the son of former major leaguer Eddie Bullock, transferred to Harbor College to begin his new career under the guidance of Coach Jim O’Brien. Considered one of the top prospects in the Los Angeles area, Bullock was selected by the Houston Astros in the first round of the secondary phase of the 1981 June free-agent draft. It was the third time he had been drafted.
It took 10 years for Bullock to reach the majors, including pit stops with three major league organizations. He made his major league debut with the Astros in 1986 and has played in only 32 games before this season.
Although he maintained a positive attitude, Bullock, 32, seemed destined for a career in the minors.
Then Bullock, a left-handed batter, got another less-painful break. The Expos were put up for sale and began cutting their bankroll by dispatching some of their pricey reserves. Otis Nixon was traded to the Atlanta Braves, and Mike Aldrete was released.
The Expos reduced their budget, but were left with only one reserve left-handed batter, Tom Foley. After Darren Reed, a right-handed reserve, suffered an injury, the Expos called up Bullock before opening day and he has remained with the club ever since.
Bullock’s task as a pinch-hitter is simple.
“My job is to go up and hit the first fastball,” Bullock said. “Anything that’s close (to the plate). You don’t want the pitcher to get ahead (in the count) and start messing around.”
Bullock, who had a .250 batting average after Wednesday’s 8-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, said the toughest part of his job is trying to keep loose and mentally prepared while sitting on the bench and waiting to get into the game.
“Chances are you get one good pitch to swing at,” Bullock said. “You’re going to need all three strikes. One swing to get loose. If you happen to miss the first pitch, you have another to try and drive the ball somewhere. After that, you’re on the defensive.”
Bullock is satisfied with his role as a pinch-hitter and with the National League expanding by two teams in 1993, he may become a starter as the talent pool is diluted.
“Right now, I wouldn’t trade for a football career,” Bullock said. “If I could do it all over again, I would have gone straight into baseball.”
Catching up with his past--Former West Torrance wide receiver Sean Berry is another major leaguer who aspired to be a football player. It’s been nine years since Berry, then a junior, teamed with quarterback Steve Center to lead the Warriors to the Coastal Conference championship in 1982.
“I think I made the right decision, especially with the money that’s being given to ballplayers,” Berry said. “But now more than ever, I wished I had played more football when I was younger.”
Presently, Berry is a third baseman for the Kansas City Royals. After some impressive power numbers at triple-A Omaha, he replaced injured starter Kevin Seitzer, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
Berry has struggled at the plate (.071 batting average) in five starts, but has played well defensively. He has four putouts, nine assists, started one double play and has no errors in 39 innings. He hasn’t appeared since May 14.
“I was hitting the ball hard, but not getting hits,” Berry said. “I started getting depressed and I tried to do something different. Now, I’m not even hitting the ball. I need to relax more, but it’s hard to do.”
When he was a senior at West, Berry received scholarship offers from lesser Division I football schools. He chose to wait until after baseball season to make a final decision about his athletic career. The Boston Red Sox made the decision even more difficult by selecting Berry in the fourth round of the 1984 June Amateur Draft.
Berry decided on baseball and accepted a scholarship to UCLA. After two seasons, he was drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Royals.
“I had good speed for a receiver, but not crazy speed.” said Berry, whose father Bob played basketball at UCLA in 1960 and 1961. “When I got drafted, I knew it was time to make a decision between football and baseball. I wanted to do both, but it was harder then to do Bo Jackson-type stuff.”
Returning with a bang--In his first game back in the minors Monday, Chris Donnels (South Torrance High, Loyola Marymount) hit a two-run home run in the 11th inning to lead Tidewater over Pawtucket. Donnels returned to the minors after playing five games for the Mets. Donnels, who had replaced injured infielder Kevin Elster, became the Mets’ 88th third baseman. He hit .267 in 15 at-bats with three RBI.
Donnels had a .365 batting average, highest in the Mets’ organization and fourth best in the triple-A International League, before being promoted.
Numbers Game--Sean Berry (West Torrance High) leads the Royals’ organization with six home runs and 19 runs batted in. . . . Catcher Jorge Pedre (Harbor) is third with 18 RBIs. . . . Shreveport’s Royce Clayton (St. Bernard High) had a .371 batting average last week, fourth best among shortstops in the minors and tops among Giant farmhands. . . . Right-handed Royal Clayton, Royce’s older brother, was 3-0 with a 2.43 earned-run average with triple-A Columbus Yankees.