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Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Spring Story.
Posted by Jill | 9:03 AM
I'm usually not one for inspirational, uplifting stories about the triumph over adversity. For one thing, they tend to be made into movies starring Robin Williams at his teary smarmiest. For another thing, they tend to paint a picture of a world where good people can triumph over anything, which is, of course, not the world we live in. But every now and then, a story cuts through even my cynicism and gives even me the warm fuzzies.

So since it's Easter Sunday, and there's bright sunshine here in New Jersey, I'd like you to meet Bryan Sullivan:
All Sullivan wanted was the chance to take the mound and play the game he watched on television, and he was willing to do whatever it took to live out his childhood dream.

He was 6-years old and a long way from becoming the winning pitcher for Paramus High School on opening day, which he was 11 days ago.

He never gave any thought to how daunting the realization of that dream was going to be.

“I watched two games and I fell in love with the game,” said Sullivan, a senior. “I was going to be a pitcher; I remember asking my dad, ‘Can I learn how to play baseball?’Ÿ”

The only promise his father, Steve, made was that they were going to try.

There were going to be challenges, considering Bryan was born with cerebral palsy and suffers from hemiparesis, or slight paralysis or weakness that affects the right side of his body.

He would be forced to learn how to catch and throw with only his left hand.

The Sullivans hoped for the day all Bryan would have to worry about was earning playing time, keeping his ERA down and adding a few miles per hour to his fastball, but they knew his quest would involve so much more.

“His determination was there from the very beginning,” said his mother, Donna. “He always believed that, with hard work, he could achieve anything.”

Bryan certainly has achieved something special, and not only with what he has done, but how he’s gone about doing it.

Today, the 18-year-old is a pitcher and a remarkable one at that, one of the greatest examples of what perseverance and dedication can produce, yet not without talent and an uncanny ability to master technique despite obvious physical limitations.

Bryan was not given the ball as Paramus’ starter April 1 against Kennedy – he earned it.


To think this whole baseball thing started when Bryan was inspired by former Yankees one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott, whose presence on the mound – and his television screen — struck an emotional chord.

“I saw him pitch twice and it was like, ‘Maybe I can do that,’Ÿ” Bryan said.

The Sullivans started playing catch in their back yard with a Wiffle ball before moving onto a tennis ball, with Bryan attempting the glove transfer from his right to his left hand after throwing.

It took two years before Steve felt comfortable enough to move onto an official baseball.

Once they did, it was time to bring in outside help, and the list of coaches who have helped in the process is extensive. From Mike Rooney, the pitching coach at Rockland County College, to the Gilligan brothers, Lar and Dan, at the Academy of Pro Players, Bryan is grateful for the tremendous support he has received along the way.

“Nowadays every parent thinks they’ve got the next Babe Ruth, but Bryan never had that kind of pressure put on him,” his father said. “For him it’s always been about trying to be successful, and you don’t get to be successful without hard work and dedication, whatever challenge you might face. No one has worked harder.”

So you can imagine the pride Bryan felt against Kennedy when everything came together. He threw 59 pitches, 44 for strikes, and gave up one base hit in five innings en route to the Spartans’ 15-0 victory by mercy rule.

“It was exciting, but I wasn’t nervous,” he said. “I was having fun, doing what I always wanted to do.”

And make no mistake: this was not a one-time thing.

Bryan will pitch again for the Spartans, and he is expected to make an impact as Paramus continues its pursuit of league supremacy and County and State tournament berths.

His career on the diamond won’t end with high school graduation, either.

Rutgers-Newark coach Mark Rizzi was so impressed with what he saw from Bryan, he offered him something he’s always wanted: an opportunity to pitch, this time in college, and he was thrilled to accept a spot within the Division III program.


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