Field of Dreams


Feb. 4, 2014

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By Jenna Marina
UCFKnights.com

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - On Feb. 7, 2014, UCF infielder Farrah Sullivan will charge on to the softball field alongside her teammates with a season of possibility and hope ahead of her.

Rewind one year to the day, and Sullivan's world was crashing down around her inside the walls of assistant coach Ruben Felix's office.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Sullivan said. "Before practice, before anything had happened, I remember one of the girls saying something just doesn't feel right about today."

Softball bonded the Mississippi native with her father from the moment she played on her first team, the Gummy Bears, at the age of 8. It wasn't a secret to her family that Randy showed a slight preference toward his daughter and the softball field over his elder sons and the baseball diamond.

"I think they were kind of jealous," Sullivan said with a slight smile. "I was definitely a daddy's girl. Every weekend we'd go play. That's all we knew. He'd pull me aside and give me inspiring words, or yell at me. But I knew he would always take me to the side and throw me more pitches or hit me more balls or whatever I needed."

Sullivan's skill improved through competitive travel leagues in both Texas and New Orleans. Due to injury, she did not get scouted by a Division I college team until her senior year. UCF head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie saw the hidden gem play once and invited her to come on a visit to campus.

"To be honest, if it wasn't for my dad talking me into coming here and pushing me to believe in myself and know that I could compete at this level, I wouldn't be here," Sullivan said. "I would have gone to an NAIA school and stayed in Mississippi."

What a shame that would have been for the Knights.

For the past two years, Sullivan has been a starter, an all-conference selection and record breaker. She set program records as a freshman for doubles and RBI. She followed up that campaign by leading the Knights in batting average, hits, slugging percentage, home runs, stolen base percentage and assists. She is also an NFCA Division I Scholar Athlete.

Her life as a student-athlete is one of routine. Classes, study hall, weights, practice, games, eating, sleeping, breathing. Normal days on repeat -- until the moment that it wasn't.

Her family called the UCF coaching staff to deliver the news. Randy, who had a heart condition and diabetes, collapsed while working in the front yard. No one else was home.

By the time someone found him, he was non-responsive, gone.

Sullivan was called into the coaches' offices after practice. Right away she felt a pang that something was wrong.

"I never thought it was going to be my dad," she said. "My uncle Bo is a preacher and he got on the phone, and I've never squalled so much in my life. All the girls said they had never heard such pain before."

Her parents had planned on traveling to Las Vegas for the team's season-opening tournament. Instead, Sullivan booked a ticket home for her father's funeral.

Knowing that she missed seeing her father by one day still makes her voice quiver and her eyes mist when she recounts what happened. She stayed in Mississippi for a week and considered giving up softball and her life at UCF.

"I talked to a lot of people and thought about it, and this game is what we shared together," Sullivan said. "I knew that he wouldn't want me to give up on it. I play every game for him."

Sullivan not only returned, but thrived. Before he passed away, her father challenged her to study and apply herself hard enough to achieve a 4.0 semester at school, something she had not yet accomplished. She dedicated herself to her studies and met the challenge.

"Everything I look to do is make him proud," she said. "My biggest goal is to be a leader, lead by example and always do the right thing. Be somebody that my teammates can talk to."

Her mother will be in the stands this year for her first game on Feb. 7. Sullivan is grateful that her mother and she will be able to support one another on the anniversary of her father's death.

"I know she'll help me get through it. We'll probably cry together. He spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania (out of town for his job), so sometimes we still think he's just at work right now and that he'll come back some day," Farrah said. "When I think of him, I just think of the great times - having him come here to cheer for me. I see his face and how happy he was that I'm living my dream and accomplished his dream as well."

 

 

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