Former MLB pitcher Charlie Puleo
March 22, 2012
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn - By his own admission, Charlie Puleo's path to the Major Leagues was far from typical.
The former pitcher for the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves was the featured speaker at the first Tennessee Baseball Luncheon in the MVP Room of Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
Puleo shared his story of going from being hired as a 23-year old by the Toronto Blue Jays for a $68 signing bonus to fill out a rookie ball roster, to being a part of a battery with Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench in Cincinnati.
Part of that journey to the big leagues led Puleo through Knoxville, where he came to appreciate current Tennessee broadcaster Bob Kesling, but not just for the booming play-by-play voice that Vol fans know so well.
"We weren't very good, probably the worst team in history," Puleo said of his 1980 Knoxville Blue Jays. "The only thing we had going for us was that Bob Kesling would broadcast our games. We really liked Bob a whole lot. He was bright and articulate, and he was the Channel 10 sports director. But the reason we liked him was because he was the one that handed out the Copper Cellar gift card to the player of the game. Back then in Double-A, you're making $750-800 a month. So when we saw Bob coming with that gift card to Copper Cellar, we were real friendly."
His career in the majors began with a call-up to New York with a Mets team he had grown up adoring. After one season in Shea Stadium, Puleo was dealt to the Reds as a piece in a trade that brought his childhood hero Tom Seaver back to the Mets. He spent the final years of his career playing alongside Dale Murphy as an Atlanta Brave.
"Overall, I probably had about five complete years in the big leagues and a partial three of them," Puleo said. "From where I started to where I ended up, I was very satisfied. I have no regrets. The life of a major league baseball player is absolutely fabulous. If you really want something and you work hard and are determined, you'll get it. And you can do it on $68, not $6 million.
Puleo also met his future wife, Micki, during his stint in East Tennessee and settled down in the area following his playing career. He went on to teach at William Blount High School in Blount County, where he also won more than 200 games as head baseball coach.
From that nearby vantage point, Puleo has been able to see the progress that Dave Serrano has already been able to make with the Volunteer program, including a sweep of Puleo's alma mater, Seton Hall, earlier this season.
"I guess I really thought that maybe he (Serrano) felt sorry for me because of what you did to Seton Hall that one week I was here watching the ball games," he said. "The way things have changed with the baseball bats the game is different. I think you all should be very excited about the brand of baseball that is being played here at Tennessee. I think it will turn around very quickly under Coach Serrano's hand. He is off to a very good start, and I think the best is yet to come."