Burden of Proof
This article appears in the April 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
It must have been quite a sight at Komachin Middle School a few years back. In the span of just a few minutes, Shane Sullivan broke the school record in the shuttle run, then stood by and watched his new mark fall.
Of course, the guy who bested Sully was Jonathan Stewart, now a senior at Timberline and the state's all-time leading rusher.
It wouldn't be hard to sell tickets to a rematch. Stewart, a Top 10 national football recruit who is bound for the University of Oregon, has clocked a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. Sullivan, a senior outfielder at Capital, has run a 6.4 in the 60-yard dash and clocks in at 4.0 seconds from the batter's box to the first base bag after a swing.
Point is, both guys are still fast. But in the realm of baseball, Sullivan is downright blinding.
"We teach our kids to play at the next level — with explosiveness and speed," says Capital seventh-year head coach Michael Spencer, 36. "It's men going after fly balls at the next level. It's men running the bases. Shane can flat-out dominate a game with his speed. He puts the ball in play, he puts pressure on the basepaths, and he goes and gets the ball in the outfield."
And honestly, it's still quite a sight to behold. The Cougars' left-handed center fielder doesn't have the build of a prototypical burner, which makes watching his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame fly around the bases all the more stunning.
"My speed is central to my game," says Sullivan, 18, who is bound for Oregon State next year pending what happens in June's Major League Baseball Draft. "I can hit the ball to the left side of the infield and reach safely on a routine grounder. Speed doesn't slump, you know?"
All the pieces are in place for Shane Sullivan. Yet he's still got a lot to prove — primarily because he was ineligible for varsity play as a junior after transferring from North Thurston to Capital last spring. It stands to reason that a guy who spent last season playing JV would want to validate all the hype about his game.
"I'd say I feel that way a little bit, but I try to improve my game every year," says Sullivan. "Until I make it to the top and I'm playing every day, I'll always approach it that way. I try not to get caught up in the pressure."
Of course, there's the added dynamic that this is Sullivan's first year playing just one varsity sport.
A three-year basketball power forward and football cornerback at North Thurston, Sullivan drew football recruiting interest from both Washington State and the University of Washington as a sophomore.
Bottom line is, this is Sullivan's first year of complete dedication to baseball. It also happens to be his first season of varsity baseball since 2003. Whether those circumstances raise expectations for his senior season or not, Sullivan suspects his new focus will ultimately help at the next level.
"I think since this is my first year of only playing one sport, I might take a little longer to develop at the next level, but my improvement should be fast because I'll be totally focused on baseball," says Sullivan, who is considered one of the top 100 high school baseball prospects in the country by several scouting services. "It's hard to know, though. I'll see when I get there. I don't really know what to prepare for, so I'll just go out and do my part and hopefully that'll be enough."
Something Sullivan is more certain about is the wisdom behind coming to Capital, despite the tradeoff of missing a season of varsity play. Sullivan calls the move "the best thing I've ever done," which is a lofty statement considering that as a North Thurston freshman he set a school record for hits in a season with 43 and batted .494 while helping the Rams to a 24-0 record and the Class 3A state title. As a sophomore, Sullivan earned All-League honors and hit .480.
Then, as rapidly as he built it, Sullivan ended his North Thurston career even more abruptly.
"It was a great place to play, but at a time when I needed guidance for recruiting and scouting, the school just didn't have the resources," says Sullivan. "There were scouts and recruiters trying to interface with the coaching staff, and they just weren't available. I wanted to make it to the next level, so I had to make a change."
Though he didn't play varsity as a junior, it's not like Sullivan didn't play any baseball last year. He made the Baseball Northwest Area Code team and also played in several other Baseball Northwest showcase events along with his summer campaign for the South Sound Baseball Club. And he didn't just play — he shined. Sullivan stole home five times last summer for the SSBC.
There is, nonetheless, a lot left to prove.
"You can project and guess all you want, but it's a big hurdle to be a standout at the next level," says coach Spencer, who earned All-American honors as a third baseman at Eastern Oregon University. "Heck, he's still got a lot to prove at this level. There are some great arms in this league, and he has to prove he can do it again. I think Shane's still a work in progress, but he's got a great mentality and, deep down, he knows he can play at the next level."
Whether Sullivan excels instantly or not at the next level, he appears well equipped to handle whatever may come.
"Hey, if you can't change your situation, you can at least change your attitude," says Sullivan. "My dad tells me that all the time. There are going to be days you run into something you can't control, so control what you can and adjust your attitude."