One evening back in 1993, Mark Sullivan told his neighbor and softball coach Charles Mullins that if Mullins ever needed anyone to hit fly balls at practice, he’d be happy to help out.
That coach, better known as Turners Falls High School legend Gary Mullins, told him he would love some help, so Sullivan, better known to area folks as Sully, showed up the next day. That was 22 years ago. Sully has not missed a season since, and on Sunday night, prior to the Indians’ game against Hampshire, the team presented its assistant coach with a plaque to recognize everything he has accomplished with the team.
I decided to catch up with Sully Sunday night, so I gave him a call and, as luck would have it, the phone was answered by wife Melinda. Unprepared for someone other than Sully to answer, I realized in my seven years covering athletics for the newspaper, and the hundreds of interactions I’ve had with him, I never knew Sully’s first name. So with that, I stuttered as a woman’s voice said, “Hello,” before finally asking if Sully was there.
That drew laughter from co-hort Mark Durant, who recognized my stumble and immediately figured out my issue. “His name is Mark,” Durant said, and I began to laugh as Sully took the receiver from his wife. I realized then that even though Sully has been a cornerstone in the Indians’ program for as long as I could remember, I didn’t really know much about the man. With that, a column was born.
Mark Sullivan grew up in Greenfield and graduated from GHS in 1977. He played soccer at GHS for coach Jim Vollinger and he played baseball under Tom Suchanek. He went to Greenfield Community College, where he got together with his wife Melinda, with whom he will celebrate 34 years of marriage in August.
The Greenfield natives eventually lived in an apartment in Turners Falls behind Scotty’s before moving back to Greenfield, but in 1991 were looking to buy a house and one night received a phone call from their realtor to come take a look at a house at 43 Vladish Ave., the house they eventually bought. Living next door at 45 Vladish Ave. was a man named Charles Mullins. Sully remembers wondering if that man was related to the high school’s softball coach Gary Mullins, who Sully also played softball both against and with in the Greenfield Men’s League at Abercrombie Field.
“I didn’t realize Gary’s first name was Charles,” Sully joked.
The two became friends, and two years later, Sully was a volunteer assistant.
“I felt funny asking him if he needed help because of his success,” Sully said. “But one thing led to another and 22 years later, here I still am.”
Mullins said that over the years Sully has been a huge help and will do anything to help the team and school.
“He’s done everything from helping put in permanent lines, to putting up soccer nets, to videotaping games,” Mullins said. “If he’s available, he’ll do it. He’s a pretty amazing guy that way.”
Did Sully ever imagine he would be with the team so long?
“I figured I would have screwed something up by now and Gary would have fired me,” Sully joked, before turning serious. “Seriously, I’m honored to have been a part of everything this team has accomplished.”
Sully said he has had a number of memorable moments during his tenure, including the team’s first state championship in 2004. Perhaps the most memorable occurred on June 16, 2008. That afternoon, Sully was on the bench when the Indians were taking on West Bridgewater High School in the Division III State Championship game in Worcester. Pitching that day for the Indians was Danielle Sullivan, Sully’s daughter who had grown up with the team. Danielle was just 3 years old in 1993 when Sully began as an assistant coach, and she spent many days on the softball field with the varsity team. It was fitting, then, that Sullivan pitched a gem and the game remained tied at 1-1 into the 10th inning. Even more fitting was when Sullivan came to the plate in the top of the 10th inning with two outs and teammate Kim Arsenault on second base and blasted a double to deep center to score the eventual game-winning run in a 2-1 win.
“Dani had a huge game and that was a great day for me,” Sully said. “There was a big hug after the game. When she was going to the plate I remember pointing my finger and saying ‘Right now’ and she had that big hit. Man, it was pretty cool.”
And today Danielle has joined the staff, volunteering her free time to help the team when she can.
“When Dani is here, she’s the second best coach on the team,” Sully said.
In 22 years, Sully has not made a single dime coaching. He does it because he loves it. Has he ever considered being a head man himself? He said it has crossed his mind, but he’s invested in the team that belongs to the town where he’s lived for more than 20 years. So it’s not likely to be in the cards.
As for the plaque, it reads, “In recognition and appreciation for over 20 years of service through volunteerism and coaching Turners Falls athletic teams, including but not limited to the Turners Falls High School softball teams.”
“It was unexpected,” Sully said. “I appreciated it very much, no question about that.”
And Mullins and the Turners Falls softball team has appreciated all he has done very much for 22 years. No question about that.
I received a recent email from a gentleman in Florida who said he and his son collected vintage baseball bats. He was writing me because he recently purchased a bat believed to have been used by a Hall of Famer named John Dwight “Happy Jack” Chesbro, who played in the Major Leagues from 1899-1909 for Pittsburgh, New York and Boston. The bat in question was believed to have been a bat Chesbro used while playing for a Minor League team called the Richmond Bluebirds between 1897 and 1899.
The reason this man emailed me was because Chesbro was from North Adams and eventually settled in Conway after his career, passing away in 1931 while fishing the brook behind his home, which abuts Howland Cemetery, where he’s buried. The gravestone is located off Shelburne Road near the center of town and is marked by a large boulder with two metal plaques with the names John D. Chesbro (1874-1931) and Mabel S. Chesbro (1875-1940).
What this gentleman was hoping to find was a living relative or anyone else who might be able to help him with the story about the bat. It was purchased from a dealer in Orangeburg, N.Y., and may once have been part of Chesbro’s Conway estate.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.