South Carolina catcher Chris Cullen couldn’t really find the right word to describe his excitement.
As he stood on the concourse along the first base side of Founders Park with reporters, the sophomore simply did his best to contain how anxious he was to get back on the diamond.
“I have to put this at the top,” Cullen said. “There’s a whole new energy around the clubhouse, around the lounge area. Everyone’s excited for this season. I don’t even know what to say. I’m excited right now.”
This season will be head coach Mark Kingston’s inaugural campaign with the Gamecocks. However, he understands the passion that the program’s fan base possesses when it comes to winning games. Like the fans, Kingston said he shares the same sentiments and is looking forward to getting started so that South Carolina supporters can see how much the team has improved.
“Every team that I’ve ever coached in the offseason needs to get bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter,” Kingston said. “What we tried to do in the offseason is get them in the weight room with Billy Anderson and get bigger, faster, and stronger. I think, when the guys see some of the bodies we have on our team now, they’ll see great improvement. Some guys that needed to get in much better shape are. Some guys that needed to get stronger got stronger. Our speed guys are continuing to work on their speed, but you saw some guys that needed to get into significantly better shape and they have done that. So, that’s the big thing I’m pleased with. Lastly, the offseason is to try to teach them the game and get them smarter about the game, how to win games, and we’ve been able to spend a lot of time in this room specifically to do that as well.”
While some fans are excited to see what the future holds for Kingston’s program, he understands the apprehension some may have heading into the season.
“What I’ve seen is when people take the time to get to know me and my vision and what our staff believes in and how we’re approaching things, they generally say, ‘Okay, I think we’re going to give this guy a chance.’ So, to me, I think the vibe among our fans is very good. So, now, it’s up to us to win as many games as we possibly can.”
However, the Gamecocks are motivated. Their record from a year ago, their inability to claim a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and their failure not to make it to the College World Series are just a few motivating factors for this team. Another is how this team is currently viewed in baseball circles across the country. South Carolina will open the season unranked in the D1 Baseball and Baseball America polls. While that can be disappointing to some, it can also serve as an incentive for the Gamecocks to play better than they have in years past.
“We know what we have,” said Gamecocks pitcher Adam Hill. “We don’t really listen to what everybody else has to say. We know what we are as a team and we’re just excited to get out here and show what we can do.”
South Carolina opens the season at 4 p.m. on February 16 at home against VMI to kick off a three-game series.
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