Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
First things first for Razorbacks sophomore
Arkansas redshirt sophomore Eric Fisher talks to the media Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. Fisher will likely start at first base Friday when the No. 1 Razorbacks host Western Illinois.
FAYETTEVILLE While Arkansas was playing in the College World Series last June in Omaha, Neb., Eric Fisher was 1,700 miles away playing first base for the Conejo (Calif.) Oaks in the California Collegiate League.
Fisher, a redshirt sophomore from Spring, Texas, projected to be No. 1 Arkansas’ starting first baseman this season, watched as much of the Razorbacks’ four College World Series games on television as he could.
“It’s tough not being able to be a part of it, but you’re always wishing the best for your teammates,” Fisher said Friday during Arkansas’ media day. “I definitely have that extra drive to want to get back there and be a part of it this time since all the guys are always talking about how great the experience was.
“I knew coming into this year I’d have the chance of starting at first base, and I knew our team was going to be just as good if not better than last year. With the pitching back, and our hitters, I think we have a great shot at making it back there again this year.”
The move of junior Dominic Ficociello from first base to second base has opened up a spot for Fisher - who bats and throws left-handed - to be a key part of the Razorbacks’ lineup.
“He’s ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” Ficociello said of Fisher. “The upside is he’s left-handed, and first base is really a left handed position. That makes it a lot easier for him. He’s got more than enough ability and skill over there.
“He’ll hit for us and drive in a lot of runs. If he just works a little bit more on his defense, he’s going to be one of the best first basemen in the country.”
Fisher, 6-3, 210 pounds, played in 18 games as a true freshman as Ficociello’s backup at first in 2011, hitting .143 with 5 RBI. Then he redshirted last year.
“I just didn’t see him getting enough at-bats with the team we had coming back, basically the starting infield from the year before,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “So we redshirted him,and he went out and played [in California] and played real well.”
Redshirting after playing the previous season wasn’t easy for Fisher.
“You’ve already been out there and played a little bit your first year and you know what it’s like, and then you have to sit out a year and watch, but it definitely worked out for the best,” Fisher said. “I’ve gotten a lot stronger. I feel I can hit the ball harder, and the year really flew by.”
Fisher hit .281 with 13 extra-base hits and 29 RBI in 45 games in the California Collegiate League - which uses wood bats - and hit .333 with five RBI during the Razorbacks’ six intrasquad games in fall practice.
“He had an outstanding fall with the bat,” Van Horn said. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start [in preseason practice], but I’m good with that. Sometimes these guys come out and they’re wearing it out early, and they get into the real season and it doesn’t go as good.
“Eric’s doing fine. I think he’s ready to prove he belongs in our lineup. I think he’ll do a great job.”
Arkansas junior catcher Jake Wise said he was impressed by how Fisher handled redshirting last year.
“A lot of people would have left if they got redshirted after being on the roster their freshman year, but Eric knew this is where he wanted to play,” Wise said. “I think he’s more anxious for opening day than anybody.”
Todd Butler, the Razorbacks’ hitting coach, said he is expecting Fisher to excel as a hitter, first baseman and base runner.
“For the sacrifices he made for our program last year, I just hope he has a fantastic season,” Butler said. “He’s a great kid, and he deserves that.”
Fisher said he is confident in his abilities to contribute to another College World Series team this season.
“I can hit the ball well, I’ve got a little power, and I also can run a little bit,” he said. “I’m not just a slow, big guy over there at first. I’ve got some agility to me. I feel like I’m pretty athletic for being over there, and that helps with hitting, too.”
Fisher played with and against a lot of Pacific-12 players in the California Collegiate League.
“Most of the guys were from Cal, USC, UCLA and Oregon,” Fisher said. “The pitching was just as good as you’ll see out here. There was definitely some good competition that helped me get a lot better.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 02/09/2013