At age six, Bryan Sullivan went to Yankee Stadium with his father to watch his beloved New York Yankees take on the Baltimore Orioles. There, he saw Jim Abbott, a pitcher who enjoyed a 10-year career in Major League Baseball despite being born without a right hand. From that point forward, Sullivan, who has cerebral palsy in his right hand, decided that he would also play baseball.
“I just felt inspired by him,” Sullivan said. “I told my father that if he can do it, then I can do it. That next day, we started.”
His journey has contained many road blocks and even more early mornings waking up at 4:30 a.m. to practice, but Sullivan, now a senior at Ramapo College, has overcome his disability. He is a relief pitcher for the school’s baseball team.
Sullivan’s cerebral palsy limits the functionality of his right hand. The muscle weakness prevents him from fully moving the limb the way he could with his left hand, which has created a challenge for him on the mound.
Although Sullivan is a left-handed pitcher, he still has to deal with the obstacle of managing his glove, which a pitcher places on the non-throwing hand. He trained diligently, starting by attempting to catch a wiffle ball, and then a tennis ball before working his way up to a baseball. He eventually employed Abbott’s method of manning the field, which involves Sullivan placing the glove on his right hand while pitching, but quickly shifting it to his left once he lets go of the ball. Once he fields the ball, he tucks the ball underneath his elbow to free the left hand up to throw.
“There were times where people told me that I can’t do this,” Sullivan said. “Well I can do that, but I would have to find a different way to go about it.”
In three appearances this season, Sullivan has registered 2 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings, allowing just one baserunner through a walk. Sullivan hopes his role continues to expand, with the ultimate goal of receiving a chance to start. There are five games left on the schedule this season before the Roadrunners, who are 23-8-1 this season, enter the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Tournament.
When he graduates this fall, Sullivan plans to study for the LSAT test and go to law school, but he also wants to help kids who also suffer from disabilities. He mentioned plans of organizing a special day around a carnival or another fun event in the hopes of providing children with the same joy that watching Abbott play at Yankee Stadium brought him years ago.
“All their life they’ve been told that they can’t do this, they can’t do that,” he said. “Here’s a day where you can just go out and have fun. Be a kid.”
Sullivan understands what it’s like to grow up battling adversity and encouraged anybody facing similar challenges to “never quit” and “keep fighting” no matter what obstacles get in the way.
“When I was younger, I got teased, and it was horrible because I didn’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “I dealt with it through baseball.”
For Sullivan, baseball has served as a coping mechanism and the perfect retrieve.
“Once I got on the mound, I said, ‘Forget this, relax. I’m ready to go.'”