Ex-Pirates minor leaguer, Eric Bolling, talks bucks on Fox

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Coulda woulda shoulda.

Those are words that Eric Bolling, cheerful, hard-charging host of the new Fox Business Network show "Money Rocks," generally doesn't traffic in.

Indeed, in a recent interview, the relentlessly upbeat Mr. Bolling was waxing enthusiastically about his new nightly program, which made its debut June 21 on the Fox Business channel and airs weeknights at 8. It will, he says, stress the "money" side of politics, entertainment, celebrity, business and sports -- and have a good time doing it.

Nonetheless, there's a slight trace of wistfulness when the 47-year-old Chicago native, who made his name as a Wall Street commodities trader before being lured to cable television, talks about playing for a Pittsburgh Pirates minor league team back in the 1980s.

It's a part of his resume that he and Fox publicists like to stress, to be sure -- even if the Pirates are at the bottom of the standings these days. There's just something about having once been a professional baseball player, however briefly, that impresses people, perhaps even more than being a hugely successful commodities trader on Wall Street.

"Money Rocks" comes at a time when the Fox Business channel is rejiggering its schedule -- dropping some shows, adding others -- in an ongoing effort to cut into CNBC's ratings dominance. Mr. Bolling says he aims to keep the program "upbeat" and "irreverent." Its first week's guest lineup included Sir Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Airways; legendary rocker Ted Nugent, who discussed what BP should have done to prevent the oil spill in the Gulf; and former "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow.

Now, about those Pirate days: In 1984, Mr. Bolling was playing baseball at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and the school had opened a new stadium during spring training season. The Pirates, playing in Bradenton on the Gulf Coast, came to dedicate the stadium, because Rollins' coach at the time was friendly with members of Pirates management. It was the era of Johnny Ray and Tony Pena.

Mr. Bolling was at-bat and the Pirates' top starting pitcher, Don Robinson, threw him a fastball. Mr. Bolling, a callow college student, knocked it out of the park.

"The whole team is laughing at Don Robinson, ribbing him pretty bad," Mr. Bolling recalled. "We finished the inning and I went back to third base, and the third base coach said, 'Hey, that was a nice shot. We're looking at you now.' I hadn't been on the radar before."

The team drafted Mr. Bolling that year in the 22nd round of the free agent draft, and a starter in rookie league in Bradenton. In a game against the Atlanta Braves affiliate, he was playing third base and fielded a ground ball deep behind third base, "and I turn to throw it to first and I feel the tear in my shoulder. I could just feel it. I knew right away it was something really, really bad."

He had torn his rotator cuff, "and that was it," he said. It was only a matter of days before Branch Rickey III, then in charge of player development, called him into his office "and he said, 'You can go ahead and try and rehab on your own, but it doesn't look good.' It was pretty crushing."

Life lesson: If you tear a rotator cuff on a minor league field, there's always oil and natural gas commodities trading -- even if Mr. Bolling admits that during his 23 years in New York, "I hate to say it, I've become a Yankees fan. At least I'm not a Mets fan."

Still, Mr. Bolling says, if he'd stayed healthy, "Maybe I'd be managing Pittsburgh right now."

Let's not go there.

Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.


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