OMAHA, Neb — Surrounded by his family Kevin O’Sullivan couldn’t help but smile.
O’Sullivan has gone through a lot on and off the field in the last year, making this moment, watching his players celebrate with their families, watching Brad Weitzel and Craig Bell, coaches that have been with him every step of the way take in the moment.
Winning the final game of the college baseball season is hard. O’Sullivan had never done it until Deacon Liput’s throw to JJ Schwarz beat Beau Jordan to first base.
“It’s hard to describe in words. To be able to first have a job at Florida and to be able to experience this with my kids is indescribable,” O’Sullivan said after the game. “There’s things that happen, you know, that just put a smile on your face. And you’ve been around them now for the last two weeks, and they’re amazing kids. For them to experience this, and the rest of my family is here, a lot of them traveled a long way to get here, and to have them experience this with me means the world. This means the world to me.”
O’Sullivan is a baseball lifer. He starred at Virginia in 1990-91, hitting .351 on his way to All-ACC honors. He took over Florida baseball at a time where the Gators weren’t competitive. They weren’t contending for SEC Championships or National Championships regularly. Jeremy Foley wanted that to be the goal, the expectation. He hired O’Sullivan to make Florida a national name in college baseball.
In 93 seasons before O’Sullivan arrived at Florida the Gators went to the college World Series five times. O’Sullivan just made his sixth trip in his tenth season and is bringing back the school’s first National Championship.
Sully was quick to credit his coaches, the training staff and the players. The student-athletes, he said, are the ones that have to balance school, practices, games, lifting and social lives. He doesn’t know, however, just how much of an impact he’s had on them.
“I was a walk on. He was the guy that gave me my chance in college baseball. I didn’t have many chances and he told me he would give me a chance. I owe my career to him,” senior Frank Rubio said after the game. “Without a doubt. He’s trusted me every year, given me more innings every year. I definitely owe my career to Sully.”
O’Sullivan really took the loss last season hard. That 2016 team on paper was favored to win it all before the season even began. They dominated teams week in and week out. They came to Omaha favored, only to go 0-2.
Still, everyone around him told him to just keep knocking on the door, it’ll open eventually.
LSU manager Paul Mainieri said those exact words on Sunday in the CWS Finals press conference. He told the media he knew O’Sullivan was going to win a National Championship, he just hoped it wouldn’t be in 2017.
“I’m happy for Kevin. He works hard and he’s had several teams that maybe were even better than this team and probably sat up here as disappointed as I am right now,” Mainieri said after the game Tuesday. “He finally got his championship, and I’m happy for Kevin.”
Mike Rivera was happy too. This time last year his mother, Maria, had just undergone a liver transplant. As the opening ceremony was going on in 2016 Maria was being operated on and Rivera couldn’t concentrate. Now, a year later, Maria is healthy. Rivera was a sixth round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians and he’ll be a professional ball player soon. He’s also a National Champion.
“He thought highly of me and started me as a freshman — I had only started catching in high school. I didn’t catch before that. He believed in me before I did in myself,” Rivera said of O’Sullivan. “He and I were really close. I see a lot of myself in him. We’ve had our off field issues. We battled through it and that’s who he is. He’s a battler. He doesn’t give up on anyone or anybody.”
The team has been sitting in the bus for 20 minutes outside of TD Ameritrade but it’s not leaving without O’Sullivan. He leaves the ESPN set with his son Finn by his side. Finn is worried that the bus will leave without them; his dad assures him it won’t. O’Sullivan’s phone is blowing up, he’s been on it the entire time as text messages and e-mails pour in. He has time for them all tonight.
“You never know how you’re going to feel when you get the last out in the College World Series, and I’m still kind of numb,” he says.
He has time to figure out all of those emotions. The National Championship trophy isn’t going anywhere.