East Lincoln’s Sullivan pitches a comeback
Danny Sullivan said he knew in February when he set foot on the East Lincoln High baseball field that he was ready to play again.
“It wasn’t easy getting there, but I did,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan, a junior pitcher, missed the entire 2011 season after having an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, also known as Tommy John surgery, in September 2010.
The long rehabilitation and questionable chances of a full recovery make the surgery a nightmare for high school pitchers.
Sullivan had suffered problems with his right elbow since he was in eighth grade, but when a golf ball-sized growth on his elbow didn’t go down after his freshman year, he opted for the surgery and hoped for better results.
“It was very painful rehab and all, but I didn’t worry about it,” Sullivan said. “I never thought I wouldn’t play again.”
Sullivan worked with his father, Mark, on a long toss program in the family’s backyard to help strengthen his arm. Sullivan began throwing in May 2011 and only threw in the family’s yard until he felt strong enough to return to a pitching mound in October.
“We started throwing 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, just stretching it out,” Mark Sullivan said. “When we pushed the distance back, I knew he was getting better because you could just see the ball snap when it got (in the glove) and there was some movement. We’d ice down his arm and I’d ask him, ‘Are you OK?’ and he said there were never any problems.”
Sullivan entered this season with cautious optimism.
He was the junior varsity team’s Most Valuable Player as a freshman in 2010. His sophomore year would have been his first varsity season.
Mark Sullivan said his son decided to give up his sophomore season because the surgery could grant him the longevity to play in college.
The transition wasn’t going to be easy from tossing in the backyard to facing varsity hitters.
“I just wanted to play baseball. I want to play this game for at least six more years, so surgery (was the best option),” Danny Sullivan said.
As his arm healed, Sullivan stepped into the Mustangs’ lineup and quickly became one of the team’s top hitters.
“He’s kind of a year behind, but he got caught up quickly,” Mark Sullivan said. “He wasn’t nervous, but I was.”
Danny Sullivan hit a grand slam in the first inning of the Mustangs’ 13-3 win over Bessemer City on March 26. He followed that with two more hits and finished the game with a school record seven RBIs.
Against West Lincoln on March 28, he went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a solo home run.
“The sky is the limit for him as he continues his comeback,” East Lincoln coach Chris Matile said. “Adding (Sullivan) to the mix helps us out a lot.”
Sullivan was known for his ability to place pitches in the strike zone before he was injured. That skill – and his fastball – is almost up to par.
On a team full of talented pitchers like Addison Parrish, David Keener and Darin Salter, Sullivan has been able to use the season almost as a spring training session, Mark Sullivan said.
“Danny is lucky that (East Lincoln has) so many good pitchers that they can win games while he gets practice reps and hits,” Mark Sullivan said. “His best pitch has always been his fastball, but the good thing about Danny is he’s always been able to hit his spots.”
Danny Sullivan said his first varsity season has been a success, but not just because of his recovery.
The Mustangs enter a Friday, April 20, game against Lincolnton with a spotless 8-0 record in Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference play.
“I’m really happy with the season so far,” Sullivan said. “I’m glad to be out there, and I feel better than before.”