June 27, 2011
The 2011 season came as a big adjustment period for Auburn outfielder Cullen Wacker. A sophomore, he signed with Auburn after just one season at Northeast Texas Community College, and it was time to see how the Mobile, Ala., native would compete in one of the toughest baseball conferences in the country. It didn't take long for Wacker to settle into the rhythm of the Southeastern Conference.
In his first season at Auburn, Wacker batted .287 in 115 plate appearances. He collected 33 hits and drove in 18 RBI, striking out only 15 times, fewer than any other Auburn starter. He also led the outfielders in fielding percentage at .978, committing just one error in 46 chances. In just one season, he had proved that he had what it takes to compete right next to the veterans.
"It is a lot different of course," Wacker said of the move from junior college to the SEC. "You go from having about 50 fans at your games to having two- or 3,000. The level of competition obviously changes. The pitching is top notch in the country. (The SEC) is one of the best conferences in the nation. Coming from a JUCO school, you're seeing 80-85 mph pitches, and in the SEC you're seeing 90 just about every weekend. It's a tough transition, but I got used to it."
When the Tigers' season drew to a close at the 2011 SEC Tournament, Wacker was ready to keep working. He left Auburn and traveled north to the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL) where he is playing for the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs. Mohawk Valley is located in Little Falls, N.Y., roughly an hour and a half east of Syracuse. He says the team's location offers plenty of time to focus on baseball.
"There's pretty much nothing to do up here but play and work out," Wacker said. "It's good because you don't have distractions, so I'm getting better every day. We play 40 games in about 45 days, and that keeps you busy."
While almost every day is spent devoted to baseball, there is one trip Wacker says, like any baseball enthusiast, he's looking forward to taking.
"Cooperstown (location of the Baseball Hall of Fame) is 30 minutes away so we're going to take an off day and go up there and visit," Wacker said. "We're thinking about driving up there one day and seeing everything and all of the history of baseball and stuff."
After leaving Auburn for a summer in New York, Wacker wanted to make sure it was time well spent. With one season with the Tigers in the books, he was able to concentrate on particular aspects of his game that he needed to focus on over the summer.
"I want to work on driving the ball better and hitting with more power," Wacker said. "I'd like to try to hit more doubles and home runs in addition to the singles. I also want to get stronger and faster."
One of the advantages to being on a summer league team is the opportunity to not only learn from different coaches, but from a different group of athletes. Wacker has demonstrated that he wants to take coaching not only from his hitting coaches, but from his teammates as well, and says their relationships are symbiotic.
"It's been great," Wacker said. "Up here, you see the little things that other guys do and you learn from it. We have the opportunity to kind of coach each other. Sometimes I correct them on mistakes and they learn, and then they can do the same for me."
This peer-to-peer coaching method is perhaps the thing that Wacker is getting the most out of during his summer season. He recognizes the value of having the opportunity to learn from such a variety of people, and says it has taught him a lot about the game.
"Meeting different guys from all across the country is pretty cool," Wacker said. "It gives you the chance to learn different things that they do, different ways the game is played, different approaches they take at the plate, different playing styles. It just shows you how diverse baseball is."
by Mae Margaret Davis, Auburn Media Relations
Click here for a list of all of Auburn's players participating in summer leagues.