NEW CASTLE — Less than 24 hours after realizing a lifelong dream, Billy Sullivan was wondering if everything had been just a dream. It was all over social media, and his cell phone hadn’t stopped buzzing, but Sullivan wasn’t convinced.
“I woke up this morning and was like, ‘Am I really a Philadelphia Phillie?’ It’s starting to set in that I’m actually a professional athlete. It’s something I worked hard for my whole life, ever since I was 4 or 5 years old,” he said June 16 at his home in New Castle.
Sullivan, who graduated from Saint Mark’s High School in 2017, signed with the Phillies on June 15 as an undrafted free agent. The Phillies showed interest in the right-hander three years ago, selecting him in the 28th round of the draft, but Sullivan chose to attend the University of Delaware.
He had a sensational freshman season for the Blue Hens, going 7-3 with an earned-run average of 2.97 in 72.2 innings. He led the team in wins, strikeouts and batting average against, and he was named to the Colonial Athletic Association’s all-rookie team and a freshman all-American.
He would make just two more starts as a collegian, however. Sullivan, listed at 6-2 and 195 pounds, injured his arm early in his sophomore fall season and had Tommy John surgery. That cost him his sophomore campaign, and the coronavirus wiped out this year’s spring season. Still, he showed enough in online videos to get offers from the Phillies and other teams. The final decision came down his favorite team and the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the Phillies feeling like the best fit, he said.
Signing the contract, he continued, “was awesome. Obviously, it was a stressful couple of days, so to be able to finally sign with them, it was a weight off my shoulders. It feels good. I’m a longtime fan of the Phillies. Growing up, it was my favorite team, so it’s a dream to be able to sign with my favorite team. It’s a great feeling.”
He knows he could not have gotten to this point without support from a lot of people, beginning with his parents, Bill and Patty, and his sister Shayne.
“At the end of the day, I made my own decision, but whatever decision I made, they backed me 100 percent. They’ve shown a lot of support for me, and I’m very grateful for that,” he said.
His former teammates, from youth ball to college, were quick to offer a word of encouragement after the signing was announced.
“All the guys from Delaware congratulated me, my buddies from high school. I got lucky with the guys I’ve grown up with. They all support me,” he said.
At Saint Mark’s, Sullivan was a three-sport athlete, excelling as a quarterback in football and a forward on the basketball team. He said the school had a lot to do with who he is as both an athlete and a person.
“Saint Mark’s played a huge role in my career and my development,” he said. “Coach (Matt) Smith runs a great program over there at Saint Mark’s. It helped me develop into who I am today. The school, the teachers, everyone there, they’re awesome. It’s a great atmosphere over at Saint Mark’s. They’ve done a lot for me, helped me become the man I am today.”
He was a three-year member of the varsity baseball team and was the winning pitcher in the 2016 state championship game at Frawley Stadium against Caravel. His other two varsity seasons ended with state tournament losses to the eventual champion.
Sullivan, 21, is not certain what his first professional assignment will be since the coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of minor-league baseball in 2020. He said the Phillies are hoping to have an instructional league in Clearwater, Fla., in August. He may try to get some game action in Delaware’s new Summer Instructional League if the Phillies give him the go-ahead. He will continue to work out at the Titus Sports Academy.
The road to Citizens Bank Park is a long one, but Sullivan is undaunted. “It’s a dream come true, but I still have a long way to go. The goal is to make the big leagues. I’m going to do what it takes to get there.”
He is not worried about Philadelphia sports fans because he is one. His message to the team’s followers is simple.
“You’re going to get a hard worker, a competitor,” he said. “The biggest thing I want to do is win. They’ve got a Phillies fan coming to play for them. I’m excited.”