King of the hill

In 1999 the Kansas City Royals selected a Madison High School standout in the 37th round of baseball's First-Year Player Draft.

He decided to further his education and break baseball records at Ball State rather than pursuing his professional career at that time in his life. The Madison standout was Ball State junior Bryan Bullington and Tuesday he will get a second chance.

"Actually going all the way through high school I never even thought about playing professional baseball and that being an option of mine out of high school," Bullington said. "The whole draft thing came on late and it was a surprise so it was a real honor to be drafted at that time.

"When that happened, I was pretty much focused on coming to school and just becoming a better player there."

Tomorrow Bullington will be sitting at his home in Fishers, Ind. patiently awaiting a phone call. It won't be from his friends or family, but from the professional baseball team that chooses him on June 4.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday in New York, baseball executives from all 30 teams will be feverishly sifting through their options in Major League Baseball's 2002 First-Year Player Draft.

"I really don't have a set place that I want to end up or be, but I think whatever situation comes, it'll work out well," Bullington said. "I'm just looking forward to getting out to where ever I'm going to go and playing baseball."

Going into the 2002 season, Baseball America rated Bullington No. 2 in the list of Top 100 collegiate draft prospects. And recently he was rated No. 5 in the list of eligible players in the draft.

Because of these ratings there have been projections of Bullington's draft status. Bullington said he heard that he may go in the top 10 or the top 5 from scouts and publications.

Some project him as No. 1.

The Pittsburgh Pirates own the No. 1 pick in Tuesday's draft. As recently as Thursday, it was reported the top spot may go to Bullington or high school students BJ Upton, shortstop, and pitcher Adam Loewen.

It has also been said Pirates' general manager Dave Littlefield, in charge of making the decision, favored Bullington. But scouting director Ed Creech preferred Upton.

In Baseball America's most recent mock draft, the publication has the Pirates taking Bullington No. 1.

Bullington said, "Obviously that (going No. 1) would be a great honor.

"There have been so many great players not only drafted in the first round, but go No. 1 overall. That would be just a great honor. I guess it's just a testament to hard work and performing well at the right time."

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune said Bullington had been the top choice until his performance in the Mid-American Conference tournament against Kent State where he surrendered six runs in the first inning.

Bullington said that he doesn't let scrutiny affect his game. "That's not really up to me, I guess. That's what those guys have those jobs for.

"I just got to go out there and pitch my game every time out. And if they like what they see then they do, if not, they don't."

Scouts have been watching Bullington and other teammates since his freshman year. The most recent Ball State player to be drafted was Larry Bigbie in 1999.

The Baltimore Orioles made him the 21st pick. The highest pick a Ball State baseball player has ever been chosen was in 1986 when Thomas Howard was picked 11th by the San Diego Padres.

"I guess for three years it's something I've been working towards since I got here at Ball State," Bullington said. "I wanted to become the best pitcher I can be up to this point and hopefully things will work out for the draft."

Bullington's career has been imprinted into Ball State record books as well as MAC record books. He set the record for single-season (126) and career (344) strikeouts this past season.

Bullington finished the year with a 10-2 record with a 2.11 ERA. He surrendered only 17 walks and two home runs in 93.2 innings pitched. These statistics lead him to become the first player in MAC history to be picked as the Pitcher of the Year in consecutive years.

Bullington's resume contains a laundry list of honors received throughout his three-year career.

He was named All-MAC first team his freshman, sophomore and junior years. He also earned 2000 MAC Freshman of the Year, Baseball America Second Team All-American, Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and was a member of the 2001 USA National Team a year ago.

"The three years here at Ball State have been a very positive experience," Bullington said. "Not only with baseball, but with school, the coaching staff and with friends around here. It's been a good three years."

After the draft Bullington still plans to finish his education at Ball State. The business administration major with a 3.27 grade point average said he would like to come back in the fall and finish.

"That's a definite goal of mine, to finish that (degree)," Bullington said. "That's why I started here and that's what I want to do."

Bullington said he has become a better player coming to Ball State than if he would have played for the Royals straight out of high school.

"You grow up and you learn a lot in those three years here. So I think it's been a positive experience in all aspects."

Tomorrow, the older and wiser Bullington will listen for the phone. Whether it is Littlefield and the Pirates on the other end, or the New York Yankees, Bullington will be pursuing a career many young men across the nation can only dream of.

"I think things are just going to work out," Bullington said. "I think they're going to work out well either way, but if things definitely work out in that No. 1 spot, that would be great. But if not, I'll be all right in any other situation as well."