NOTE: The fifth of a 16-part series of individual feature stories, leading up for No. 25 Kentucky’s 2016 season opener at Wofford on Feb. 19. Wednesday, learn about Kentucky junior outfielder Marcus Carson.
Adversity faced and experience gained, Carson ready for 2016
Brent Ingram, UK media relations | ONLINE: bit.ly/MCarson15
Baseball, played at its highest level, is a game of failure.
No Kentucky baseball player in 2015 learned that lesson more than outfielder Marcus Carson.
The pride of London, Ky., Carson opened his sophomore season 0-for-17.
He waited until UK’s 14th game of the year, in the second month of the season, for his first hit.
“Last year was a big learning experience for me,” Carson said. “The first three weeks I didn’t have a hit. I had some hard hit balls but they just didn’t fall. (Offensive coordinator Rick) Eckstein always tells us to trust the process not the result. That is hard thing to learn because everybody wants to get hits.”
As a star, two-sport, high school athlete at North Laurel High School, failure was something new to Carson. He finished his senior season with a .534 batting average, setting school career marks in average (.447) and hits (231).
As a freshman in 2014, Carson didn’t exactly struggle in his chances. He hit .364 in 33 at-bats, over 25 games and four starts – including the opening-day start in leftfield – but was behind star Austin Cousino in centerfield.
“Coming in as a freshman, I played behind Cousino,” Carson said. “I knew I wouldn’t get a lot of opportunity but I took my freshman year as a way to pick Counsino’s brain. Just about outfield tips and anything really, just getting advice from him helped.”
A 5-foot-8, 170-pound sparkplug, Carson stepped into a more prominent role as a sophomore. With junior Kyle Barrett taking over for Cousino in centerfield, Carson spent the year fighting for playing time as a part-time starter.
He served as the designated hitter in the season opener, before starting on what could be a crippling slump for young players facing the rigors of the Southeastern Conference.
A player who earns constant praise from the coaching staff for his competitiveness, Carson fought out of the slump and back into the lineup. He credits his work with Eckstein in the drastic turnaround.
“Eckstein has done amazing things for me,” Carson said. “He is one of the best coaches I have ever had. He sees the game different than normal people see the game. The things he says blows my mind, which has helped take my game to a different level mentally and physically.”
He finished March with three consecutive multiple-hit games, including three-hit games at No. 1 LSU, leading UK to the series win at Alex Box Stadium.
After ripping an RBI double in the SEC Tournament, Carson finished the year with a .226 average, with four doubles, five RBI, seven walks and five stole bases. He played in 35 games with 22 starts, sporting a .283 average after collecting his first hit of the year.
Now as a junior, Carson is prepared to fight for another opening-day start. With Barrett and hit-machine Ka’ai Tom graduated to professional baseball, there are openings in the UK outfield.
Carson, fellow junior Storm Wilson, and senior Dorian Hairston provide UK experienced options, with newcomers Tristan Pompey and Zach Reks giving the lineup flexibility.
The challenges of fighting through adversity as a sophomore will only help Carson grow as a player. That experience, combined with a furious work ethic, have him prepared for what lays ahead.
“It all goes back to my parents,” Carson said about how he learned his work ethic. “My dad wakes up at 4 a.m. and goes to work, gets off at 1 or 2 p.m. If he needs to he would go in at 1 or 2 a.m. just to be able to come to one of my games. Seeing that work ethic growing up makes me want to be the same, a hard worker. Everyone has nothing but praise for my dad, which has really rubbed off on me in my work ethic.”
The pride of his hometown, Carson’s success is heard throughout Laurel County.
“London means the world to me,” Carson said. “It’s a small town. Not a lot of athletes, or people in general, get a lot of opportunity. I always know that they are behind me. It means a lot to me to know that I have a whole community behind me and wanting to see me succeed. If you would have told me growing up that I was going to be a D1 player at the University of Kentucky, I would have said no way. God has just truly blessed me to be in the position that I am.”