This story is about 2 things: my relationship with Christ and the fight to survive. I grew up in a Christian home. I was raised to believe that Christ was the answer and accepting Him in my life was key. I went to church every Sunday and prayed every night. I was on the right path.
My story starts from day one, but my day one wasn’t like that of most people. It was October 22, 1994; my birthday. Most babies are born crying and pinkish in color. I wasn’t. I was born months early and I didn’t make a sound. I was so quiet that if it was just me alone in the delivery room you could have heard my tiny heart beat. Not only was I quiet, but I was blue. A light violet hue covered my whole body. Everyone could tell something was way wrong with Ryan Daniel Sullivan. As a result of being born premature, my feeble infant lungs were underdeveloped. I could barley breathe. That first night a nurse stood over my smurf-like body and manually pumped air into my lungs. My parents prayed every second, as my time on this Earth was uncertain. The way I see it there were 4 critical factors that saved me in this “fight of my life”: My fighting will to survive, the nurse pumping air into my weak lungs, my family praying for me to pull through, and God himself working miracles to answer those prayers.
Now everyone says that “He (God) has bigger plans for you” which I believe to be true. But in my case I feel it’s crystal clear. Having survived being born months early and unable to breathe properly, I truly believe God put me on this earth to do something incredible. After weeks in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit at the hospital, the doctors who worked to hard to save my life allowed my loving family to take me home.
My story picks up again about 12 years later. I had found something I loved, baseball. It’s safe to say that baseball was the center of my life at this point–so much that I didn’t even go to church anymore because I had games every Saturday and Sunday. I no longer prayed each night and rarely thought about spreading the word of God. While it didn’t seem so at the time, this was the darkest time of my life this “unknowingly lost in the woods” version of Ryan Daniel Sullivan went on for quite some time. From middle school with friends coming and going, to high school parties and girls, I wandered astray. Which leads my into the next part of my story, high school varsity baseball.
I had played baseball my whole life and entered high school eager to play for my school just as my older brother had. I can clearly remember watching his games in awe. The players seemed so big and strong, but more importantly, being on the high school team meant you were part of a family. At the time I wanted nothing more than to play for the Durant High School Cougars. That’s why when I got the news after my first high school fall tryout as a freshman that I had made the Junior Varsity Practice Squad, I was extremely excited. Being on the the “practice squad” was a nice was of saying I could practice with the JV team and bring the helmet bag to the games while I watched the action from the bench. Nonetheless, at the time I was the happiest kid on earth.
I was on top of the world, until the spring tryout of my freshman year rolled around. I tried out for second base. I played awful and got cut. I got cut from the Junior Varsity Practice Squad. To put it into perspective, people who get cut from the JV team usually don’t every play the game again. I was cut from the practice squad of that JV team. My chances of playing baseball again were worse than a seal’s chances of swimming out of a pool of hungry great white sharks. That night I went home and cried my eyes out to my parents. As the water works slowed down and the Mississippi River could rightfully regain it’s tittle as the largest river in the Western Hemisphere, my dad got up and played the movie “Rudy” (if you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it). The movie told the story of an underdog who worked for years to play football at Norte Dame. The film truly inspired me to get up, stand up, and never give up. The fight that I had from my first day of life was back. A fire ignited inside of me and it was not to be put out. I worked hard everyday and watched that season from the stands. During every game I attended, I told myself I would be back out on the field, and I would become a leader on the team, not just a helmet bag boy.
As the summer tryout arrived, I reminded myself of all the hard work I had put in, preparing myself for that moment– my chance to get back on the team. I stepped onto the field that morning with a hunger to reach the goal I had set that tear-filled night back in the spring. The morning air was still, and the sun was beating down on the orange clay where so many of my friends had sweated and bled for months. As the tryout began I did something that I hadn’t done in a long long time… I said a prayer. Honestly to this day I don’t know why I did it or what caused me to bow my head and speak with God, to whom I hadn’t spoken in years. “Lord,” I said, “I know it’s been a while. But if you could just make these nerves in my chest go away and give me the strength to do what I’ve trained for, it would mean the world to me.” I remember that prayer every day and still say it before every inning I pitch (minus the “it’s been a while” part). That tryout was one for the books. I made sure that I fought and hustled every second I was on that field. At the end of the day I had made the JV team. My heart leapt in my chest as the coach called my name. When I got in the car with my mom, still not old enough to drive by myself, we both broke down in tears. I had done it. I got cut from the JV Practice Squad and made it back on the team. Looking back on it, during those years without God in my life, He was always there. I had simply not looked hard enough and didn’t include Him in my life every day. He was always inthe background, inspiring me with the will to succeed, blessing me with a work ethic like no other, and fanning the flame of a a fighting spirit in me like nothing on this Earth. Yes, He was there. He just quietly observed from the sidelines and gave me the tools I needed to succeed. God really does work in strange ways.
If you think this is the end of my story, think again. It’s only the beginning.
The first game of that summer I was the starting second baseman. I actually played great! But that was only the first game. Unfortunately the rest of that summer season was an utter disaster. I think I managed to make an error in almost every game and only accounted for 3 of the team’s hits all season. So once again, after flying so high, I was shot down for a second time. At the end of the year it was clear that I was in danger of being cut again. Keep in mind that I still hadn’t prayed since that summer tryout. As that year’s fall tryout came closer I was still working hard every day and preparing for the day that would make me or break me. The tryout finally came and I was as nervous as ever. This time I didn’t say the prayer–didn’t even think about it. As I stepped onto the field I couldn’t calm myself. Subsequently, I played awful. Arguably it was worse than I had played during the past summer season. As I stood there in the outfield shagging batting practice a thought came over me. “Why not go throw a bullpen and tryout as a pitcher? Shoot it’s not like you can do anything else wrong today”. So thats what I did. I had never been a pitcher, but as crazy as it seems, I threw very well–all strikes. Honestly, I was flying by the seat of my pants, but it worked because at the end of the day coach told me that he wanted to keep me on the JV team as a pitcher. This was good news for me because my father owned and operated a baseball training academy exclusively for pitchers. When I told my dad I had been selected as pitcher, he did a double take and said, “Well, I know how to make you better that that!” During the fall season I pitched my tail off. I was a strike throwing machine who just racked up outs left and right. I was clearly the best pitcher on JV. I still worked very hard. That never changed and never will. However, God was still out of my life…until one day.
It started just like any other Sunday. I woke up and planned to go to the ball field and work on my new craft. However this day was rained out. Workouts turning into washouts had happened before, many times actually. It’s part of life in Florida. But this day was different. Actually, it was me that felt different. I got a call from my buddy that day asking if I wanted to go to church. He explained to me that the girl I had a crush on was going, and it would look good if she saw me there too. So I went, all dressed up and ready to praise The Lord just so I could get a girl’s attention (that’s the idea Ryan, that’s definitely what church is for). As I look back on it, part of me wishes God would have hit me over my stupid head! While standing at a pew trying to eye my girl, something came over me. Something told me to look at the preacher. As I did I found his eyes locked and looking right at me. “Jesus is the answer to everything” he said. Suddenly I got chills over my whole body and realized that I had been going all wrong. I needed God in my life. I left that church a changed person. That “something” that came over me wasn’t just a mysterious feeling. It was God opening my eyes so that I could see all that I had been missing. It was a loving, patient God encouraging me to welcome him into my heart. I don’t even remember the girl’s name, but I will always be glad she attracted me church that life-changing day.
From then on, I worked every day at two things: becoming a better pitcher and becoming a better Christian. I worked out and read the bible every night. I was now saying my prayers and telling others about His word.
This time when the spring tryout rolled around I was more ready than I had ever been. With clear eyes and a full heart I stepped onto the field trying to reach my childhood goal of playing high school varsity baseball. I pitched amazingly that day. In fact the hitters I faced didn’t even touch me. At the end of the day the coach sat us all down in the varsity locker room to tell us who made the team, and whether they would be on the Varsity or the JV. I can remember looking around at all the lockers and begging in my heart for one of those to be mine. The coach began calling off the names of players who would be on JV that spring. My name wasn’t on that list. Wow! I was a nervous wreck. I was either going to be on the varsity and fulfill my dream, or I was going to be cut again and would probably never play baseball again. The tension in the room and in the back of my neck was intense. As he began calling out the names of players who had made the varsity team I said a prayer. “Lord, no matter what happens in the next minute, I promise to live my life on whatever path you’ve laid out for me.”
With a bunch of returning returning players all but guaranteed a spot, there were to be only five new players added to the varsity. The coach said 4 names and mine wasn’t one of them. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was scared out of my mind! I felt like the last runner up in a Miss America pageant. As the coach prepared to call out the name of the last player to make the varsity team he said “I think I’m gonna like this one… Ryan Sullivan”. At that point in time I froze. Like the calm before a storm, my world got quiet. I was completely stunned and numb. As I came back to reality, my eyes filled with tears. All the guys had seen how hard I had worked and what I had done to get to this moment. They all gathered around me, clapping and cheering. If the Guinness Book of World Records had been in the locker room, I would definitely hold the record for biggest smile ever on a human! I had done it. A year and a day after being cut from the JV practice squad, I was officially on the varsity roster.
God was definitely a part of that process, and I can’t express how thankful I am to be blessed with the family and friends I have. From the day I was born I had to fought not only to stay alive physically, but also to keep my baseball life alive, and God was there beside me all the way.
I went on to become a pretty good high school pitcher. Every time the coaches called my number, I did my job. I gave up only 2 runs my entire high school career. I am now a freshman in college and have extended my baseball dream by earning a chance to play college baseball at Weatherford College in Ft. Worth, Texas (D1 JUCO). My love for the game, my work ethic, and the fight in my heart are all the same; however, one thing is different. I now live each day the way Christ would want me to. He is the center of my life, and my relationship with Him grows each day. From a breathless blue baby, to a broken hearted kid crying on the living room floor, to a college baseball player. That transformation would not have been possible without God. With Him, all things are possible. Ryan Daniel Sullivan is living, breathing truth of that indisputable fact.