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Destined for the Diamond: Cedar Rapids Prairie senior Cal Sullivan continues family baseball and softball tradition
All-state performer ready to lead Prairie in his final season
CEDAR RAPIDS – Cal Sullivan was destined for the baseball diamond.
The game was in his blood. Encrypted in his DNA even before it became a love for the Cedar Rapids Prairie senior.
See, baseball and softball are hallmarks of the Sullivan family.
His mom, Deb, was a two-time All-American at University of Nebraska-Omaha after a Hall of Fame career at Indian Hills Community College. His father, Mike, played baseball at UNO after two years as a member of Tom Osborne-led Nebraska football teams. Older sister, Nicole, was an all-state player and just concluded her junior softball campaign for DePaul.
“I have some good athletic genes,” Sullivan said. “I definitely think I got it from my mom.”
Sullivan has contributed to the family’s tradition and will look to add bit more to their legacy. The 2022 All-State Elite Team performer will start his final high school season Monday when the Hawks host Linn-Mar for a doubleheader, starting at 5 p.m.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Sullivan, a Kirkwood baseball commit. “It’s a season of lasts.
“I’ve been on varsity all four years and now thinking it might be in the rearview mirror in two months is kind of crazy, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great year.”
Natural ability was noticeable by Prairie Coach James Nelson and his staff. Sullivan had strong instincts from his first varsity days.
“Absolutely, we could tell right away when he was a freshman that he was a baseball kid,” Nelson said. “You could tell he spent a lot of time around the game because he did things other kids didn’t do without being coached.”
A far cry from when he was a nervous freshman, getting his first start. An even farther one from when the Sullivan foursome would visit the batting cages at Line Drive Hitting facility or the town ball fields in Fairfax.
“Growing up, my sister and I really enjoyed the game,” Sullivan said. “There was a lot of time spent at hitting facilities. In the summer, we’d always get out to take groundballs. It was always something we did as a family.”
Deb (Baetsle) Sullivan was an All-American first baseman for UNO in 1993 and 1994. Originally from Keota, she was inducted into the Indian Hills Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017, earning NJCAA first-team All-American, two-time first-team all-region, Region XI Offensive Player of the Year and Team MVP honors from 1990-92.
Mike Sullivan, from Norfolk, Neb., was a standout running back in high school and joined the Cornhuskers. He missed baseball and transferred to play for the Mavericks from 1992-95, receiving all-conference recognition in 1994.
“My dad is really knowledgeable,” the youngest Sullivan said. “My mom is really knowledgeable. We all would take big trips in the afternoon to play catch, take some swings and groundballs. It was a really good time.”
Like many siblings, Sullivan and his sister had a competitive relationship, especially when it came to the diamond. They would argue over who hit the ball farther or who threw it harder. Sullivan laughed when he said the challenges “didn’t make any sense.” Nicole was a pitcher with a built-in catcher in her little brother. They were able to help and push each other to improve.
“There was always competition between us,” Sullivan said. “Even though she’s older than me, it was kind of like I wanted to be better than her and she wanted to be better than me.
“We were competing but at the same time we were rooting for each other. We were trying to make each other the best we possibly can.”
Sullivan has been a mainstay in the Hawks lineup. He has started 85 of 89 games the last three seasons, including 79 of 80 as a sophomore and junior. Sullivan owns a .388 career batting average, tallying his 100th career hit with a single in the 4A state quarterfinal against West Des Moines Dowling last year.
Sullivan packs a punch, leading Prairie in home runs with five each of the last two seasons. This season, he could surpass 100 RBIs, 100 runs and 200 total bases.
He possesses the physical skills, but his mental approach and selfless attitude are just as impressive.
“Cal has always been a super talented player, but what I think sets him apart is he understands team baseball,” Nelson said. “The kid can hit massive home runs, but he knows he is a better hitter when he is working gap to gap.
“As a freshman when he moved up to the varsity as a backup catcher. We had him play third base. He was talented enough to play there and get away with it. But, over the next two seasons, he turned himself into an elite third baseman. We had other all-state level catchers, and Cal is one as well, but he was unselfish and knew we were a better team with him at third.”
The Kirkwood commit has embraced the return behind the dish from a corner infield spot. Nelson said he has worked on being a leader, noting Sullivan isn’t loud or outspoken but teammates listen when he talks.
“It’s helping the team,” Sullivan said. “It’s helping the pitchers and helping them stay calm. Also, I have to see what’s going on in the whole field. We’re going to have a young infield, besides Maddux (Frese). Some guys don’t have a lot of experience, so I have to make sure everyone is in the right place. If something goes wrong, which it’s the game of baseball so it will, just make sure everybody’s heads are up. Ultimately, my goal is to be a leader.”
Probably another trait learned from his family.