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Sullivan's First Pitch Was to Brush Back Death

University of Houston's junior right-hander survives serious auto accident at age 10 to become one of college's best pitchers.

May 11, 2003|Dennis Waszak Jr. | Associated Press

Brad Sullivan's face bears a constant reminder of how lucky he is to be alive, let alone one of college baseball's most dominant pitchers.

"My scar's on my face and I can see it every day when I look in the mirror," the University of Houston junior right-hander said. "It makes me think that I'm really here to do something. God gave me a second chance."

When Sullivan was 10, he was riding in the back seat of a car driven by one of his sisters when a truck accidentally slammed into it. Sullivan, not wearing a seat belt, was sent across the back seat and his head hit the divider separating the front- and back-seat windows.

"It crushed my skull and cut my brain," Sullivan said. "They brought me to the hospital and the doctors told my dad that it looked like someone had taken an ax and hit me. They told him that I probably wouldn't be able to walk or see ever again."

Titanium strips were inserted into Sullivan's forehead to hold the bones together, and he spent a month in the hospital.

But Sullivan recovered quickly. Despite doctors initially telling him and his parents that he probably wouldn't be able to play sports again, Sullivan was playing soccer just weeks after being released from the hospital.

Six years later, doctors removed the titanium strips from Sullivan's forehead, leaving scars that are still visible.

"They cut from one side of my ear to the other side, folded my face down and took them out," said Sullivan, now 21. "That whole experience really forced me to grow up pretty quick, knowing that I could have died.

"I just really appreciate life more than I think a lot of people do."

Sullivan's story is an inspiration to most who hear it, including his teammates and coaches.

"Those kind of people like Brad, they're kind of in a different category because they've stared death right in the face and had to overcome it," Cougar Coach Rayner Noble said. "They're just unbelievable competitors and won't let moments in time pass them by."

Sullivan has certainly made the most of his three seasons at Houston. He was 6-4 -- mostly because of a lack of run support -- with a 1.94 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 97 1/3 innings heading into this weekend's series at Memphis.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Sullivan set the Cougars' single-season record with 157 strikeouts last year, when he went 13-1 with a 1.82 ERA -- the first to lead Conference USA in all three categories. He also was 7-0 with a 0.72 ERA for Team USA last summer.

Sullivan had a school-record 13 double-digit strikeout games, and was six strikeouts away from breaking Shane Nance's school career mark of 388.

"He can tune it up when he needs to tune it up, there's no doubt about that," Noble said. "For him to go through a nine-inning game and strike out 13 or 14, it's almost like it's no big deal. It's something he seems to do a lot."

That ability comes from having an impressive arsenal that includes a wicked slider, a fastball that ranges from 89-94 mph, a tough overhand curveball and a quality changeup.

Sullivan, a baseball and football star at Nederland High School in Texas, was recruited by Houston to be a shortstop and closer. But the Cougars lost some key pitchers from the previous season, giving Sullivan a chance to make an immediate impact as a starter.

"I knew when he first stepped in here that we had someone that was special because he was such a good athlete and just a tremendous competitor," Noble said. "Not much scares him, put it that way. He just finds a way to get himself through situations."

Sullivan has become a pitcher who opposing hitters get pumped up to face -- a challenge he relishes.

"That's exactly what I've worked for since I got here," Sullivan said. "In my freshman year, Mark Prior and USC came in here and I remember that when he got on the mound everybody was intimidated but they wanted to get after him and beat him. From that day, I wanted to be like that."

Sullivan has done well to establish his own identity: He's considered a potential top-10 pick in next month's draft.

"He's one of the better pitchers that I've seen in all of my days in college baseball," Noble said. "I think Brad has the makeup and the staying power to have a good career at the big league level."

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