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WHERE ARE THEY NOW: GUY SULARZ : Baseball Burnout Finds Spark by Fighting Fires

August 06, 1994|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Typical Guy Sularz. Still putting out fires.

Need somebody to fill in over here? Call Sularz.

Somebody lacking something over there? Call Sularz.

First as a baseball player and now as a Phoenix firefighter, Sularz, it seems, always is on call.

After graduating from North Hollywood High in 1974, Sularz spent 10 years playing baseball in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Only a season and a half of that decade was spent wearing a big-league uniform.

And considerably less time than that was spent actually playing for the Giants.

Sularz retired after the 1984 season with a grand total of 206 major-league at-bats. He played in 108 games for San Francisco in parts of four seasons.

Selected in the 10th round of the 1974 draft as a pitcher and outfielder, Sularz was converted to the infield in his second professional season. He was a starting shortstop for several minor league seasons, then a full-fledged utility player, filling in around the horn.

Now, almost 10 years after his retirement, he is used similarly by the Phoenix fire department. Sularz is a rover, assigned to whichever station needs him most on a given day.

Versatility is a Sularz trait. In high school, along with starring on the North Hollywood baseball team, he was a running back on the football team. During his senior season in 1973, Sularz was the tailback on a team that won 11 consecutive games before losing to Carson in the City Section playoff semifinals.

Hustle, an impressive work ethic and above-average skills both as a fielder and hitter made Sularz attractive to baseball coaches. But by the time he quit, he was bitter and burned out.

"I didn't enjoy playing anymore," Sularz said. "I didn't feel like going to the ballpark, and I didn't care if I played.

"That was a hard feeling to accept, especially when you've played baseball all your life."

Yet Sularz, after spending five years away from the game, is a fan again.

A Dodger fan.

He watches major league games on television, plays for an over-30 amateur baseball team and occasionally makes the short drive from his home to Scottsdale Stadium for a Phoenix Firebird game.

Sularz played his best baseball as a member of the Firebirds for all or parts of seasons from 1978-84.

He is the club's career leader with 751 games played, 827 hits, 129 doubles and 1,077 total bases. However, his are bittersweet records.

Sularz spent the majority of his career tantalizingly close to the big leagues.

So close, yet so far.

Most of his major-league time was accrued in 1982 when he had 101 at-bats in 63 games--mostly at second base--for the Giants. He batted .228 that year, 10 points higher than his career big-league average.

"I was used to playing all the time," Sularz said. "Coming off the bench was tough. I just didn't adjust fast enough."

When San Francisco signed Joe Morgan to play second base in 1983, Sularz anticipated that his chances of sticking with the Giants were diminishing.

He was right. That season, he stayed in Phoenix until September, than played in only 10 games after being recalled. In '84, he didn't play for the Giants at all, spending the entire season with Phoenix.

The next spring, Sularz received a contract offer from the Giants in the mail. It was as a player-coach in Phoenix.

"When I saw they wanted me to coach it really hit me," Sularz said. "Wow, I definitely don't have a future there."

Only four years earlier Sularz had delivered his first major-league hit, a single against the Phillies in a game at Candlestick Park. He recalls Pete Rose, Philadelphia's first baseman, catching the ball after it was thrown in from the outfield and handing it to him to keep.

"The first of many," Rose said to him as he handed it over.

There would be only 44 more.

Sularz briefly considered requesting a trade to another team, but then he decided to quit.

"It wasn't fun anymore," he said. "I just didn't feel like going back."

He was 28. He had no plans.

"Like a lot of guys I'm sure, I hadn't thought much about what I was going to do after baseball," he said.

Using money he saved from baseball, Sularz enrolled in junior college while he determined a future course. After running into an old minor league opponent who was a fireman, he decided to take fire science courses at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana.

Several former baseball players he knew were among his classmates.

As a firefighter, Sularz has accomplished the kind of quick ascent that failed to materialize in baseball.

Less than two years after retiring as a player, he was a Scottsdale city fireman. Less than a year later, he moved over to Phoenix.

Sularz is married to Julia, whom he met when he was playing for the Firebirds. They have a 4-year-old son, Taylor, and a year-old daughter, Skylar.

Although happy with his career as a firefighter, Sularz recently has turned his attention toward someday returning to baseball as a coach.

Greg Minton, a former Giant teammate, has hired Sularz and several other former professional players to be instructors at a baseball school that will open in Scottsdale later this month.

Sularz said that eventually he might try to catch on with a professional team as a coach. But not now. He wants to stay around home, where he can spend time with his wife and children.

"The problem with trying to become a big-league coach is you have to do your stint in the minors," Sularz said. "I don't want to do that traveling bit again. That's not for me."

He would know--from experience.

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