by Greg Huchingson, Managing Editor Big Time Softball
For a country boy from rural North Carolina, who bleeds Duke blue and roots passionately for the Blue Devil basketball team, it’s hard for him to comprehend the niche he has carved out for himself in the slow-pitch softball community.
“Winning championships, hitting balls out of baseball stadiums, going into the Hall Of Fame, having tournaments named after you, having a bat named after you – all that seems almost unreal to me,” said Billy Joe Fulk. “You just don’t look at yourself like that. I try to be humble about everything. It’s all awesome but hard to put into words, thinking back on it all.”
The 41-year-old Fulk grew up in King, North Carolina (pop. 6,904) near Winston-Salem and loved playing sports. He excelled in football, baseball and basketball all the way through the 10th grade. But coaches at South Stokes High School thought the hulking Fulk could be something special as a left-handed baseball pitcher and wanted him to stop playing all other sports and concentrate on that. Fulk disagreed.
“It kind of pissed me off that they said I could only play baseball,” said Fulk. “I got mad and said if that’s the way it was going to be, I wasn’t going to play anything at all. So I turned my attention to slow-pitch softball. I showed them!”
Fulk’s dad, Clayton, was already an avid softball player on the North Carolina tournament circuit. Fulk had begun picking up with them in league games at age 15, but at age 17 he started playing tournaments full-time. Twenty-five years later, Fulk is still smashing softballs out of stadiums across America.
After a couple of years with his dad’s team, Fulk caught the eye of Phelps Lumber, an A team in North Carolina. “But A back then is not what it is now,” Fulk said. “We probably had 15 or more A teams in North Carolina alone.”
In 2000, Fulk hit the big time when he was signed by Paramount Builders, an A/AA team from North Carolina that traveled the country. From there his next stop was with Smokes, then in 2004 Chuck Caviness picked up Fulk on Benfield/Alesium/Reece/Easton. That’s where Fulk won his first of many world championship rings as Benfield took first place at the USSSA Men’s A World Tournament.
In 2005, Fulk’s AMLasVegas/Benfield/Reece/Belcher team won both the ASA and NSA Major World Championships. They also took second at the USSSA A World and fourth at the USSSA Major.
“That was a fun year,” Fulk said. “Dan Smith and (Travis) Resmondo went together on a team that year that was by far the best team. At the NSA Major, they had the bases loaded with no outs and still had home runs left. Hallsy (Jeff Hall) lined out to shortstop then Rusty (Bumgardner) hit into a double-play to get us out of that jam. We went on to beat them in the eighth inning. I think we might have been the only team to win the NSA and ASA Major in the same year.”
Fulk recalled a comment made by former teammate Dennis Rulli, who was also on the Benfield squad. “Resmondo teams were great for a decade,” said Rulli. “Lots of players won rings playing for Resmondo, but the true test is what did you win when you weren’t playing for Resmondo?” Fulk added, “That always stuck with me. It’s about the only statement Rulli ever said that made any sense.”
The next few years, Fulk played with Specialty Tank/Stucco/Worth (2006), BellCorp/Belcher/TAI (2007) and Long Haul/Phonemasters/Miken (2008) before joining the Resmondo/Specialty Tank/Worth dynasty in 2009.
Over the next eight years, Resmondo won six USSSA Major World Series championships and Fulk was a big part of that success. The short porch in right-field was an enticing target for the left-handed swinging Fulk. In 2010, Fulk hit .818 at the Major World Series and was named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the tournament. In 2014, Fulk was named Most Valuable Player of the Major World Series when he hit .842 with 11 home runs and 19 RBIs.
Fulk’s Resmondo teams won the Major World Series in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Fulk says the best team he ever played on was the 2014 Resmondo squad that went 67-12 on the year, won first place in eight tournaments including the Conference Championships and run-ruled every team except one at the USSSA Major World Series.
Last year, when the sponsors and players from the top two teams played musical chairs, Fulk, Bubba Mack and Greg Connell went with Travis Resmondo to play on Resmondo/OA/H.Auto/Specialty Tank, which was the Easton flagship team. The transaction happened late in the off-season and made for a peculiar year for Fulk, as he was swinging an Easton bat while there were still “B.J. Fulk Model” bats from Worth on the shelves in stores. The team finished second to SmashItSports/Worth at the Major World Series, with many of Fulk’s long-time former teammates in the opposing dugout. This year, Fulk is playing for TDB/FAI/Klutch/Miken, a AA team based in North Carolina.
Many softball enthusiasts consider the Smoky Mountain Classic in Maryville, Tennessee to be the greatest tournament in the nation. Nestled at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountain just outside Knoxville, the tournament will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this July. Co-directors Joe Huff and Chris Clark will be hosting a ceremony honoring some of the all-time greats in the game. Fulk will surely be included, as some of the finest moments of his career have come at Sandy Springs Park.
In 2006, Fulk hit a career-high 19 home runs at the Smoky Mountain Classic. Since, then he hit double digits in home runs seven more times at the tournament. He made the Smoky Mountain Classic All-Tournament team in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
“The atmosphere there is just awesome. All of the locals are so nice and knowledgeable about the sport and they love to come out and watch the games,” said Fulk. “Then you think about the history of that tournament. All the great ones have played there. It’s hard to believe this will be my 18th year playing there. It brings out the best in you.”
Fulk has had other great experiences in softball. He got to play three times in the United State versus Canada “Border Battle” on national television. He was also part of the Long Haul Bombers Stadium Power Tour, where selected sluggers from each manufacturer hit home runs in Major League Baseball stadiums across the country. The exhibitions helped educate baseball fans to the abilities of underhand softball players. Crowds often watch in amazement when softballs fly completely out of stadiums.
“That was real cool to do,” said Fulk. “Not too many people can say they got to hit softballs in big league ballparks in front of thousands of fans. I still get butterflies when I do it.”
Fulk rated AT&T Park in San Francisco as his favorite. “The weather is nice and the water is close behind the right-field home run fence. It doesn’t take too much of a hit to get the ball out of the stadium and into the water. That is cool to see.”
Other stadiums at the top of Fulk’s list are Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Coors Field in Denver.
Fulk has represented DeMarini and Easton over the years, but most of the time he has been a featured representative of Worth Sports. His signature Carolina Blue “B.J. Fulk Model” bat was one of the best sellers ever at Worth.
“I give credit for a lot of my success to Corny (Mike Cornell) when he was with Worth,” said Fulk. “He always did what he said he was going to do and that doesn’t always happen in this business. It meant a lot to me. I guess you could say I got a good promoter and a good friend out of it.”
Fulk’s affiliation with Worth led to a self-titled tournament in Texas featuring his name, the B.J. Fulk Shootout at Big League Dreams in Mansfield, Texas which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years already,” said Fulk. “It is a great experience to get to meet grass roots ballplayers, answer their questions and hang out. I can promise you I get more out if it than they do. It’s very humbling and I am honored that people look at me that way.”
In 2016, Fulk achieved the ultimate honor in softball when he was inducted into the USSSA Hall Of Fame at a ceremony at the Sanibel Harbour Resort in Fort Myers, Florida.
“That’s another one that is unreal to me,” said Fulk. “It’s hard to believe that my name is in there with all of the greatest players, sponsors and coaches ever in the game. I’m almost speechless.”
Fulk and his wife, Monica, still make their home in King, N.C. where he is employed as an electrician. The couple has two boys Weston (6) and Hendrix (2) and when Fulk is not on the road playing or promoting softball, his favorite hobby is “hanging out with the boys.” Fulk said Weston enjoys playing sports all the time. Fulk’s dad Clayton and his mother Sherry also live close by.
“My dad still pitches batting practice to me all the time,” said Fulk. “He has played some senior ball in the past, but not this year. A team asked him to play a four-tournament schedule and he said yes. Then the coach called back and said he could only get four guys to commit. Four guys! What kind of (stuff) is that?”
B.J. Fulk has carved out a name in slow-pitch softball as big as his imposing physique. And there is likely plenty more to come.