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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sullivan’s return a spark for Silver Knights

NASHUA – Ryan Sullivan’s new/old team had just lost a tough one, but he was still beaming from ear to ear.

He was a Nashua Silver Knight again, and that was a big difference to his summer. ...

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NASHUA – Ryan Sullivan’s new/old team had just lost a tough one, but he was still beaming from ear to ear.

He was a Nashua Silver Knight again, and that was a big difference to his summer.

Sullivan, fans may remember, was a slugger right out of Hopkinton (Mass.) High School for the Silver Knights last summer before he enrolled full time at the University of Connecticut. Actually, he had to spend part of last season in an orientation program at UConn and missed half the time, hitting .283 with 2 homers and 21 RBIs in 26 games.

But as is the case with most of the recent high school graduates in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, they are ticketed almost by rule for elsewhere the following summer. Thus Sullivan began the season at Laconia in the rival New England Collegiate Baseball League, and played in only 16 games with 34 at bats, hitting .158.

Smartly, Knights VP of Player Personnel B.J. Neverett monitors a lot of former Knights who are playing in other leagues. He saw that Sullivan was struggling, both he and Sullivan talked to UConn, and the switch was made.

In six games back, Sullivan has three RBIs, three doubles and has made an impact either offensively or defensively in all six games.

“We’re glad to have him here now,” Knights manager Ted Currle, who was Norton (Mass.) High School’s coach, coached against Sullivan when the latter played at Hopkinton. “Ultimately the college coach controls it.”

Sullivan was at the movies about 10 days ago when he got a text message from Neverett asking him if he’d like to come back. When he said yes, the process was underway.

“I wasn’t playing that much at Laconia so I was thrilled to come back,” said Sullivan, who has had an impact in just about every game in the week of his return. “I jumped at the opportunity.”

Sullivan said he knew that at Laconia, because of his .234 freshman season at UConn, that he’d be coming off the bench.

“I understood that,” Sullivan said, “but halfway through I just needed to play, you know? I wanted to get better, I wasn’t doing anything good on the bench.”

Perhaps things should change, and players who come out of high school ought to be able return to their FCBL teams for another summer, or at least state that preference to their college coach. You see, the high schoolers who come into the FCBL are top of the line prospects, scholarship players who the college coaches have future plans already mapped out. The feeling was likely that the FCBL wasn’t established enough for top talent.

“I think there’s been a misconceived perception of this league,” Currle said. “I think it’s a lot better than what the coaches think it is. So I think more and more going forward you’re going to see kids come back who do well here. Coaches will want to send them back, because it translates to having good years in college.”

That being said, Currle says there’s sometimes a good reason for the younger players to go elsewhere, too.

“I also understand it on the college coach’s side to want to send kids to different places,” he said. “It is a good experience for the kid to go somewhere different every summer, maybe a different part of the country, different competition. I get it both ways.

“It’s nice to get guys back that are good players. But if you can’t, you can’t.”

Nashua last year missed out on Chris Shaw’s possible return. Things didn’t pan out for him in the Cape League, and he ended up in the NECBL when the Knights really wanted to get him back.

Sullivan felt his freshman year at UConn was all about getting his feet wet, “more of a big learning experience.”

What did he learn about college baseball last summer playing in Nashua before he actually went to UConn?

“Just that you’ve got to bring it every day,” he said. “You can’t relax, there’s someone there to take your spot. I had to battle with a sophomore (at UConn), me and him were just going at it. You can’t really have an off day, it seems like. You’ve got to bring everything you’ve got every day. Nashua taught me that.”

Sullivan said he does notice some differences between the NECBL and the FCBL.

“Maybe a little bit in the pitching,” he said. “Our ace was a Vandy (University of Vanderbilt) guy who had Tommy John (surgery) and was 92-94 (miles per hour throwing).

“But just your average pitchers, not that much of a difference. But the NECBL may be just a little bit better.”