Sean O'Sullivan's dream since he was a little boy playing whiffle ball in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego was to one-day play for his hometown Padres.
The 25-year-old had posters of Tony Gwynn all over his childhood room, went to Padres games with his dad and brother every chance he had and can still answer any Friars trivia you throw his way.
So when the right-handed pitcher became a free agent for the first time in his career last offseason and San Diego was interested in signing him to a minor-league contract, it was a no-brainer.
"I always knew that if I had the opportunity to sign with San Diego, I was going to take it," said O'Sullivan before Tucson's 18-7 loss to Reno on Sunday night at Kino Stadium. "I was a Padres fan growing up and Tony Gwynn was my hero. If there was a legitimate opportunity, I was going to take it and there was.
"It's awesome, but tough at some points because I'm not in San Diego. I was never excited to sign with San Diego to play in Tucson."
O'Sullivan competed for the final spot in San Diego's starting rotation in spring training and was hoping to earn the spot. Instead, he was sent to Tucson.
Here, he's become the ace of the pitching staff.
O'Sullivan is 6-3 with a 3.70 ERA in a team-leading 14 starts. He leads the team in wins, innings pitched (82 2/3) and strikeouts (71). He had a clause in his contract that allowed him to opt out this weekend, and sign with another team.
Instead, he decided to stay with San Diego for now and push back the opt-out date to July.
"He's been unbelievable," Tucson manager Pat Murphy said. "He's been our middle linebacker. He changes momentum for us. He's a great competitor - a mainstay."
The Star chatted with O'Sullivan on Sunday.
How big of a Padres fan were you when you were younger?
A: "Growing up, we didn't go on family vacations. We went to baseball games. That's what was fun for us. It was never difficult to get us to go to the field. If my dad showed up with Padres tickets, it was straight to the shower, get dressed and let's get out of here. We'd always park in the back of the parking lot and after the game, everyone would exit and we'd stay in the back and play whiffle ball until the lot was cleared. A lot of my childhood memories revolve around baseball and the Padres."
And Tony Gwynn was your hero?
A: "Definitely I have posters and everything. He was at San Diego State when I was graduating high school. He came to my house to recruit me and it was like, 'Tony Gwynn is in my house, how awesome is that?' I ended up not going there because I went to a junior college for a (year) and left for pro ball. But just the fact that he was in our house was awesome. He's standing right here and the poster is over there. That was pretty cool."
You threw a no-hitter in 2009 for Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League. There's a pretty cool story behind that, right?
A: "I found out my grandma had passed away a few days before that and I had a breakdown. I found out five minutes before throwing a bullpen and I wasn't focused. My coach was all over me. I was very, very close with her. We went out for that game and I had just been sent down (by the Angels). I had a whole different set of emotions going through my head as well. I wanted to do pitch well for her. We went through the first couple of innings and I didn't give up a hit, but I didn't realize it. In the fourth or fifth inning, a guy hit a soft blooper and the center fielder came in and made a diving catch and I looked back and saw the scoreboard behind him. I got in the dugout and no one was really talking to me. I ended up being able to close it out. It was pretty cool. It was the highlight of that year and something I'll never forget. It turned out to be pretty special."
• Who: Reno at Tucson
• When: 7:05 p.m.
• Radio: 1290-AM
Reno 18, Tucson 7
• Highlight: The Aces scored nine runs in the first inning and cruised to an easy victory over the Padres. Tucson starter Robbie Erlin lasted just two innings and gave up 11 earned runs and 11 hits. Infielder Jesus Merchan pitched the ninth inning for the Padres, allowing one run and two hits. Brandon Allen managed to go 3 for 5 with a home run and two RBIs in the loss for Tucson (36-34).
• Big number: 11: Reno was 11 for 16 with runners in scoring position and left just six on base in the lopsided win.
• Tonight's starters: RHP Anthony Bass (0-1, 12.34 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Bolsinger (1-1, 6.23 ERA)
- Daniel Berk