Wichita State pitchers meet with pitching coach Brent Kemnitz before every practice, a session known as “flow” and usually announced by Kemnitz walking through the locker room chanting “flow, flow, flow, flow.”
Before Kemnitz arrives, the pitchers often draft a substitute to start the flow of information. The sub is Todd Sullivan, the WSU equipment manager who is so much more than that.
“He is like a repeat button of Brent,” WSU pitcher Tobin Mateychick said. “Sometimes, while we’re waiting, we’ll talk him into sitting in the spot Brent sits in every day and pull his glasses down and act like Brent. I always joke that Todd could be a pitching coach.”
Sullivan, from Goddard, is ending six years as equipment manager, the longest tenure in coach Gene Stephenson’s 35 years as coach. Sulllivan extended his stay because of graduate school, a love for the program and the fact he helps run the place.
“He’s assistant to everything,” Stephenson said. “He is going to be sorely missed next year, unless he decides to come back for a seventh year and get another graduate degree.”
The duties of most equipment managers stop at the laundry room. Not for Sullivan, who offers a myriad of services in addition to laundry, ordering uniforms and managing inventory. He often travels with the team. When he doesn’t, he meets the team at Eck Stadium upon return — even if that is at 3 a.m. — to collect equipment and make sure a uniform didn’t get left in a hotel or bats on the bus.
He throws batting practice when WSU needs a look from a lefty. Before Friday’s game at Creighton, he tossed to Taylor Doggett and Dayne Parker so they could practice bunting.
During practices, he stands next to coaches watching drills or drapes over the rail behind the batting cage.
“I feel like I’m just as emotionally invested in what we’re doing here as the players are,” Sullivan said. “I want to win as badly as these guys do.”
During games, he is always in the dugout, usually standing, and unafraid to raise his voice when an umpire or opposing player steps out of line.
“They force me into that role,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes it’s like a library in there.”
Over the years, he earned more and more trust and responsibility from coaches. That might be his most impressive accomplishment — six seasons dealing with their demands. Now he wins a few arguments and Stephenson will give him freedom to make sure the Shockers own enough balls, batting gloves and other goodies.
“When I first started, he was just as stingy with everything as he’s ever been,” Sullivan said. “As the years have gone, I think he’s grown more confident in me.”
Sullivan’s relationship with the players also changed. Former Shocker pitcher Andy Womack brought him into the program, and Sullivan found himself in a locker room with players he grew up watching as a fan. That was intimidating, he says, and it was hard to tell those players “no.”
After a few years, Sullivan became a stronger presence in the clubhouse and the person new players come to for help. Before each season, he holds a meeting to explain to players how things will run in regards to equipment. Six years of seniority comes with privileges. After a recent win, he recommended that Parker needed extra time in the batting cages. Parker took it in the teasing spirit intended.
“I wouldn’t have said that to Conor Gillaspie,” Sullivan said. “If I would have said that to Derek Schermerhorn or Danny Jackson, they would have laid me out flat.”
The current generation of players admire how Sullivan does the dirty work willingly and maintains his enthusiasm for the program and the sport. Sullivan is a big country music fan who loves Johnny Cash and can’t stand Jason Aldean. The players like playing Aldean in the locker room to get under his skin. Sullivan likes to lighten the mood by singing “The Thunder Rolls” to a player.
“He’s a karaoke singer, or he thinks he is,” shortstop Erik Harbutz said. “He’ll get up and personal and make you feel pretty awkward. He won’t leave until he puts a smile on your face.”
Most of all, Sullivan will be remembered for helping things run smoothly. On a trip to Long Beach State, Mateychick, then a freshman, forgot a bag of balls at the hotel room. That made the coaches unhappy and disrupted batting practice.
“As a freshman, you’re intimidated, and Todd was there,” Mateychick said. “I didn’t even know where to turn, and Todd helped me out and got me a ride back to the hotel,”
Sullivan’s shadow most days is Dylan Seybert, the person who will take over the duties next season. Sullivan wants to stay in Wichita and work, but a job in professional baseball might be tempting. Before he leaves, he is trying to teach Seybert to say “no,” when to say “yes” and how to keep things running around Shocker baseball.
“You can’t be in college forever,” he said. “It’s time to move on and do something else.”