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.
Hogs’ new hitting coach a steady fixture at Baum
Tony Vitello, assistant coach for the Arkansas baseball team, talks with the media Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 at the University of Arkansas baseball media day at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Listening to Arkansas baseball Coach Dave Van Horn and the Razorbacks, it sounds like new hitting coach Tony Vitello must live at Baum Stadium.
“He’s always up here working with guys who want to stay late or come back,” Van Horn said. “He meets with them all the time. Sometimes I try to stay out of the meetings - because I don’t want him to feel like I’m critiquing him too much right now - and let them have it.”
Players said a text or call to Vitello about getting in extra batting practice or talking about hitting is quickly returned.
“Whenever you show up at the field, his car is here,and when you leave, his car is still here,” said junior second baseman Brian Anderson, who hit a team-high .325 last season. “That leads to the respect we all have for Coach Vitello.
“He’s always up here working his butt off.”
Vitello, 34, said he doesn’t actually live at Baum Stadium, where the Razorbacks open the season Friday against Appalachian State. He hasn’t spent the night at the ballpark, either.
“I used to do that when I was younger, but I wouldn’t be able to function doing that now as I get a little bit older,” Vitello said with a laugh. “But I made sure I live close by. It takes me about four minutes to get here.”
Vitello, who played at Missouri and began his coaching career with the Tigers in 2003, came to Arkansas from TCU last June after Todd Butler resigned as Arkansas’ hitting coach and recruiting coordinator to become Wichita State’s head coach.
“Coach Vitello is awesome,” Arkansas junior outfielder Joe Serrano said. “He’s got more energy than most of the guys on the team. He’s made our team better.”
Vitello often will leave notes for the hitters with motivational phrases or advice about how they can improve.
“He’s big on the mental side of the game,” said sophomore right fielder Tyler Spoon, who hit .288 with at team-high 49 RBI last season. “I had never really honed in on that, so he’s opened up some new doors for me.”
Vitello said the idea behind the notes is to help build unity among the hitters and ultimately the whole team.
“Certainly we’ll individualize stuff, because whether they know it or not, 20 guys may get the same note, but it may be intended for one guy in particular,” Vitello said.
Vitello is trying to help get more production from the Razorbacks, who in 2012 had a .271 team batting average and scored 5.2 runs per game and last season fell to .260 with 4.8 runs per game.
“I’ve tried to help him understand what he’s getting into with fans and media and everything else because the offense has struggled for a couple of years,” Van Horn said. “He needs to be thick skinned and just coach, just work.”
The Razorbacks have been more focused on getting deeper into pitch counts to wear down opposing starters, hitting line drives and manufacturing runs through walks, bunts and hitting-and-running.
“Whatever you’ve got to do to touch home plate,” Vitello said. “It doesn’t matter how you get there, but if you touch home plate more than the other team, you’re going to win the game. So that’s the goal of our offense.
“If it means a guy in the middle of the order bunting, or hitting-and-running in an awkward situation, or just being a better base-running team than the opponent we’re playing, we just need to scratch and claw and find a way to get wins.
“I think that’s the makeup of this team, and they’ve adopted that philosophy.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 02/12/2014