COLUMBIA -- Chris Cullen knew he’d have to have the surgery, he knew his knee wouldn’t hold up the way it was forever. The surgery was going to happen.
He was just trying to delay it for as long as he could. Until one day, the pain of crouching behind home plate and swinging a bat was just too much. Cullen had surgery on his knee and missed the final series of last year and the SEC Tournament.
“It got to the point where I wasn’t feeling good; I couldn’t contribute in anyway,” he said. “We finally pulled the trigger in the middle of the season, and it was tough having to sit in the stands for the Georgia series and not travel to Hoover with the team. It crushed me.”
Cullen had to sit and watch his team make a late tournament run, knowing he couldn’t do anything to help on the field. He watched as the team got left out of the field of 64 and failed to make the tournament for the second time in two seasons.
But sitting helped him.
He was able to get a head start on his rehab and made that a focal point of the offseason. He worked on building strength, specifically around his lower body, to make sure he was as fit as he could be for this year.
Now, entering his junior season at South Carolina, he’s ready to slide into hopefully the starting catcher role.
“I feel brand new right now,” he said. “I took the whole summer, fall and winter break rehabbing everything. I could play every single day right now.”
He’ll have competition with senior Hunter Taylor still in the mix for that starting role, but Cullen said the two are as close as ever and spend a lot of time off the field hanging out.
On the field, they’re just working to get better before opening day on Feb. 16.
They have a secret weapon to help in the form of new head coach Mark Kingston, who was a catcher at North Carolina and helped his team to the College World Series.
Kingston has gotten in the ear of all of his catchers so far, and it’s been nothing but helpful for Cullen and the rest of the group.
“He knows what to expect, he knows what to prepare us for,” he said. “He knows what we need to do to put ourselves in the best position we can. It’s been cool to kind of pick his mind a little bit and listen to what he has to say.”
With Cullen healthy, he’ll likely see his fair amount of time in the lineup, but the question then becomes where to play him.
He said he’s always been a middle-of-the-order hitter that drives in runs. Last season he hit .276 in 34 games with five home runs and 18 RBI.