Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Curry enjoys 'homecoming'
Chris Curry, center, Northwestern State pitching coach, has a chat with starting pitcher Brandon Smith, left, and catcher C.J. Webster Tuesday, April 22, 2014, during the game against Arkansas at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Chris Curry heard the crowd as he made his first trip to the mound Tuesday night.
The pitching coach for Northwestern State didn't get the customary boos as he jogged across George Cole Field. Instead, fans behind the first base dugout cheered when they saw him emerge at the first sign of trouble for his starting pitcher.
It was the first time Arkansas fans had seen Curry since he served as the program's volunteer coach during a successful run for the Razorbacks in 2009 and 2010.
"That made me feel really good that they remembered me and connected me to a great program, even if I was a small part of it," Curry said of the fans' recognition. "I hope they understand you've got to keep a certain level of professionalism as an opponent. I wanted to acknowledge them and tell them I appreciated them for the respect, but at the same time I was trying to win the game."
With Curry on staff, Arkansas won 84 games while advancing to the College World Series in 2009 and NCAA super regional the next season. He was instrumental in the development of eventual second-round MLB draft pick James McCann while serving as the Razorbacks' catchers coach.
Curry, a Conway native, left Arkansas to take the head coaching job at Meridian Community College in Mississippi. He spent two seasons at Meridian - where he was a player in the 1990s - before accepting the job as pitching coach at Northwestern State prior to last season.
"I think when you're at a place like Arkansas you've got to leave to come back," Curry said. "There were things I needed to learn and I've been a part of two kind of rebuilding processes. There is no question that standing in Dave Van Horn's dugout and watching him run a program - not necessarily the Xs and Os, but behind the scenes with recruiting, practice planning, evaluating players, all the way down to grounds keeping and just the day-to-day behind-the-scenes operation it takes to run a program at the highest level - I learned a lot from that.
"You take those things when you're the head coach or an assistant, and you try to plug them in. I attribute a ton of what I learned about the college game to being on that staff and watching that program operate on a first-class level."
Curry's return to Baum Stadium wasn't a good one from a professional standpoint. His pitchers gave up a combined 26 hits and 23 runs in the two losses to the Razorbacks. Northwestern State fell to 22-19 overall.
"Playing there as an opponent is no fun," said Curry, who once started a series at Baum Stadium as a catcher for Mississippi State. "I've been in that Arkansas dugout where you make it tough on the visiting team."
Despite the losses, being back in Fayetteville was an overall positive experience for Curry as he was able to see a number of friends and briefly recall some of his favorite times as a coach.
"It kind of felt like a homecoming of sorts because there are so many great memories in 2009 and 2010 with the great teams," Curry said. "I was able to see some people who were close to me like (strength coach) Mike Strouhal and (secretary) Kelly Moore, (director of operations) Clay Goodwin and Coach Van Horn. I enjoyed reconnecting with people I hadn't seen in a while.
"We had our first child in Fayetteville. There are just a lot of great memories there."