While his teammates are focused on returning to affiliated ball, Chris Buglovsky is content to pitch in front of his family and friends, even his first-grade teacher.
The Somerset Patriots righthander, a native New Jerseyan, was on the Mariners’ radar screen, making it to Triple-A Tacoma in 2005, then left the game for three years to be with his family.
“My wife had a miscarriage and my grandmother had recently died,” explained the 29-year-old Buglovsky on his decision to prematurely retire. “Losing a pregnancy puts everything into perspective. I realized what’s important in my life. I chose family over a paycheck and I was at peace with my decision.”
Buglovsky traded in his glove to become a health and phys-ed teacher at Hopatcong (N.J.) High, where he also became the head coach of the baseball team.
Then, last August he read that a former teammate of his, Kip Bouknight, had just signed with the Patriots. At the urging of his brother Matt, Buglovsky contacted the Patriots. Knowing his background, manager Sparky Lyle and pitching coach and director of baseball operations Brett Jodie gave him a personal tryout.
“He hadn’t pitched in three years and obviously that makes you nervous,” Jodie said. “But we thought it was worth the chance. He got it up there, strike after strike after strike.
“I turned to Sparky and said ‘This guy can help us. I liked his attitude.’”
Buglovsky started five games, went 1-3, 2.81 and allowed just 10 walks in 32 innings. When September came, Buglovsky returned to his day job teaching, then hopped in his car after school and traveled 50 miles to the ballpark in Bridgewater. Excluding Newark, which is also within driving distance, Buglovsky skipped the road trips once school returned, although he did take a few days off when the Patriots made the playoffs en route to the Atlantic League title.
“I hadn’t picked up a ball in three years except for throwing batting practice to the high school team,” Buglovsky said. “Last year went better than I expected.”
It may have been a solid return, but it didn’t change the fact that his teaching career came first. He didn’t return to the Patriots this season until school ended in mid June. With a two-seam and four-seam fastball that tops out at 91 mph and a slider, changeup and curveball, Buglovsky was 5-1, 4.48 ERA in 70 innings and is enjoying his summer with his wife Jill, daughter Deandra and his extended family.
“A lot of the kids from the high school team have been to the games,” Buglovsky said. “I was always on the West Coast so to have my friends and family watch me pitch is pretty cool.”
Buglovsky was drafted in the third round by the Rockies in 2000 out of The College of New Jersey. After stops at Portland, Asheville and Salem, he went 10-10 with Double-A Tulsa in 2003 before being traded to the Mariners organization. He spent 2004 with Double-A San Antonio and advanced to Tacoma where he went 4-5, 4.24 in 2005.
He is still the property of the Mariners and had to sign a waiver allowing him to pitch for Somerset. If he decides to give affiliated ball another shot it would have to be with Seattle. However, if another club was interested in signing him, Buglovsky would encourage them to work out a deal with the Mariners.
“I’ve had discussions with Seattle,” Buglovsky said. “At first I was hesitant about calling them because I was afraid they might be holding a grudge. But they are a first-class operation. They have left the option open for me to return.”
But unlike most independent leaguers, Buglovsky would be pickier about what kind of situation would entice him to return to affiliated ball. After all, in Somerset he has the best of both worlds. He is close to becoming a tenured teacher and his baseball team is on the upswing with a nice blend of underclassmen returning next spring. In addition, he has become a key element in the Patriots starting rotation.
So for now, Buglovsky is happy to be back on the mound, doing what he loves, but getting to do it with his loved ones watching.
“If I can put everything in my heart to teaching and coaching, then when I’m 65 I will have no regrets,” Buglovsky remarked. “I will be satisfied with my decision. I’m a firm believer in things happen for a reason.”
— Everett Merrill
• Many independent leagues have been forced to rely on a travel team to fill out the schedule, even if it’s not an ideal situation. Because the rest of the league has to foot the travel team’s costs, they are a drain on the rest of the league’s finances, but they also are usually the worst team in the league, which hinders the competitiveness of the league. Nowhere is the more apparent than in the Continental Baseball League, which had two travel teams in 2009—the South Louisiana Pipeliners and the Coastal Kingfish. The Pipeliners were your typical travel team—they were 25 games under .500 at 16-41. But the Kingfish are one of the worst teams in independent league history. The Kingfish finished 8-51 (.136), and the roster has had more turnover than a Waffle House griddle. With four games left in the season, the Kingfish had used 48 different hitters and 42 different pitchers. The team ERA was 8.62 and the team batting average was .232.