Pulsipher continues fighting in Tacoma

TACOMA — At 30 years old, after Tommy John surgery, after fighting anxiety, after going from can't-miss prospect to a journeyman, Bill Pulsipher was feeling like a kid.

Last week, sitting on the Tacoma Rainiers' bench on a balmy afternoon, the former New York Mets prospect said he was feeling better than he had in a long time.

He had signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners on Aug. 4, and had pitched well in two starts for the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers.

"For the longest time, I didn't feel comfortable on the mound," said Pulsipher, who is 1-1 with a 2.92 earned-run average in two starts. "But now I feel like I did as a kid playing in Little League. I just feel like I'm in control of the situation again."

That was before a strained lower back put him on the disabled list. That's the way Pulsipher's career has gone.

In 1991, the Mets made the left-hander a second-round draft pick, and were soon touting him, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson as "Generation K."

Then, in 1996, Tommy John surgery ended Pulsipher's season. When he tried to come back the following season, concerns about his health led to anxiety attacks on the mound.

"Right after the surgery, I didn't make the club going into the following season," Pulsipher said. "There's a history of anxiety in my family and (that) set it off for me."

Pulsipher spent the next seven seasons bouncing around the minor leagues, taking Prozac to try to control his anxiety.

"It's been a very tough road, there's no doubt about it," Pulsipher said. "In 2002, when the Yankees' organization released me, I actually had quit. I didn't go searching for another job. I pretty much said, that's it, I've had enough."

Shortly after making that decision, Pulsipher took a look at his son, Liam, then 1, and realized he had to give it one more shot.

"I took a step back and looked at my son and realized I wanted him to know that his dad was a baseball player," said Pulsipher. "That rejuvenated me and that's when I decided I was going to give it one more shot."

Liam, who will turn 4 on Sept. 24, and Leyton, 1 on Oct. 8, have become Pulsipher's biggest fans and source of inspiration.

"It takes the edge off for me to be able to have my sons look at it from an entirely different perspective than I can," he said. "Everybody says that when you have kids it changes everything, but it's completely true."

Shortly after signing with Baltimore in 2003, Pulsipher knew he was in a bad situation. The team changed general managers, and Pulsipher was moved into the bullpen.

"Sure enough, the season started and the anxiety came back," Pulsipher said. "That's when I really confronted the situation and changed medication from Prozac to Paxil, and since then things have been so much better."

After years of trying to hide his anxiety problems, Pulsipher is comfortable talking about it and hopes doing so will help other athletes in his situation.

This year, with the desire to start and little interest from major-league organizations, Pulsipher went to the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.

A strong showing there grabbed the Mariners' attention.

Pulsipher has been a hit with the Rainiers, on the field and in the clubhouse.

"He's done a great job in his two starts for us so far," Rainiers manager Dan Rohn said. "And it's just like having another Pat Borders (the Rainiers' veteran catcher) in the clubhouse. Guys can rely on him and talk to him about his experiences."

Two years after he called it quits, Pulsipher sees the majors as an attainable goal again.

"I told my wife (Michelle) that I was questioning if I do have what it takes to get back to the big leagues," Pulsipher said. "But now, from the way things are going, I feel like I have what it takes."

John Boyle: jboyle@seattletimes.com