NASHVILLE — Guts, will, heart, nerve, grit, courage, desire.
For some athletes, these are just words. For Carson Fulmer, they are traits embedded in his DNA, chromosomes that helped make him one of the top college pitchers in baseball.
And later this season, you could be seeing this moxie on full display with the White Sox.
A fiery right-hander with the mettle of a tank, Fulmer guided Vanderbilt to a national title in 2014 and led them back to the College World Series championship in 2015 before losing to Virginia. Rick Hahn and company were ecstatic when he fell to them with the 8th pick of the first round of the MLB draft last June.
For a White Sox fanbase that loves players who take the field with steam coming out of their ears, Fulmer is straight out of central casting.
“He’s the strongest-willed kid we’ve had come through,” said Tim Corbin, Fulmer’s head coach at Vanderbilt. High praise considering Corbin has also coached All-Star pitchers David Price and Sonny Gray. “He’s the nicest, meanest kid I’ve ever seen from the standpoint of getting on the mound and competing on a level and not taking a backseat to any situation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid go through his career quite like him and he did that his freshman year and up to his junior year and didn’t skip a beat. He was highly, highly competitive his freshman year, which is very unique to see.”
The White Sox love Fulmer's makeup as well as his arm. His fastball can touch the upper 90’s, he has a tremendous curveball and has been working on a changeup.
Standing 6-feet tall, he’s short for a major league pitcher, but what he lacks in height, he more than makes up for with nerve and relentlessness.
“To me, it was like Joe Frazier. He’d just keep coming and keep throwing punches,” Corbin said about Fulmer. “He might get hit, but he’s trying to go through you. He’s not trying to dance around you. He’s Jim Brown in a Cleveland Browns uniform and Joe Frazier with the gloves. He’s coming right for your chin and he’s trying to knock you out. He’s not trying to screw around. From that standpoint, I’ve seen few guys like that.”
For three seasons, Corbin witnessed this competitive streak that rages inside Fulmer.
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
One of the best examples came when Corbin went to pull him in the sixth inning of the deciding game of the 2014 national championship series.
Fulmer had given up one earned run over 5.1 innings, but Corbin wanted to bring in a reliever.
“I ask for the ball and he turns his back on me,” Corbin recalled. “I said, 'Carson you’ve got to give me the ball. I’m bringing in Hayden Stone.'”
Fulmer shook his head no.
“I said, 'Carson, he’s running out to the field right now, I need the ball.' He says, ‘I’m not giving you the ball.’ And I said, ‘Well, you can give it to Haden.,”
So Fulmer took the ball and reluctantly handed it over to his teammate.
When Corbin returned to the dugout, he couldn’t find Fulmer anywhere. Moments later, the Vandy coach went to use the bathroom, but was stopped by a police officer.
“What’s the matter?” Corbin asked.
“You can’t go in the bathroom right now,” said the police officer.
The officer looked at Corbin and said all he needed to know:
“The person you just pulled out of the game is in there and if you go in there, he’ll kick your butt.”
The White Sox aren't sure yet if Fulmer will be a major league starter or reliever, but whenever he takes the mound in the big leagues, there's one thing they already do know:
He's a fighter.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.