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.
Catcher sharing wisdom
Arkansas Jake Wise puts the tag on baserunner Carson Shaddy as the Razorbacks run situation drills during the first practice of the season Friday afternoon at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas catcher Jake Wise has been rehabbing from elbow and hernia surgeries he’s undergone the past six months.
“It’s hard getting old,”Wise said with a smile after the Razorbacks opened practice Friday.
Wise, 22, is an old man by college baseball standards. He is the only senior listed on Arkansas’ roster, which includes 20 freshmen.
“I love to have that dude back,” junior pitcher Jalen Beeks said. “He’s the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to. He’s the best defensive catcher in the SEC, in my opinion.”
Wise had a .991 fielding percentage and threw out 20 of 52 runners on stolen base attempts last season.His defensive skills figured to have Wise included last season in the Razorbacks’ major-league draft exodus - when they lost five juniors among their school-record 11 picks - but an elbow injury prevented him from being selected.
Wise tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow late in the season and in June underwent ligament replacement surgery to repair it.
It took a couple of days, Wise said, to get over the disappointment of not being drafted. Knowing he was returning to Arkansas, one of the top programs in the country, helped him deal with the frustration.
“Maybe if I didn’t go to such a great school, it would have been a little harder,” he said. “It is tough seeing your whole class that you came in with, everybody that you spent three years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears with, leave. But now I’ve got a bunch of new teammates and a new goal.”
Wise’s immediate goal is to be in the starting lineup when the Razorbacks open the season against Appalachian State on Feb. 14.
“I think it’s really realistic, because I feel like if opening day was today I could play,” said Wise, who also had hernia surgery in December. “We’re just being a little conservative because you don’t want to tweak anything right before the season.”
Redshirt sophomore outfielder Tyler Spoon said it’s impressive how hard Wise has worked to get back on the field.
“I want the best for Jake, and it would have been awesome to see him go play pro ball because I think he’ll be phenomenal at it, but it’s such a blessing to have him back, too,” Spoon said. “It’s great to have that wall behind the plate. He’s just so good with the pitchers.”
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said Wise has come back with a positive outlook to make the most of his senior season and mentor his young teammates.
“The players voted him captain,” Van Horn said. “His attitude has been good. He’s probably the most verbal he’s ever been, because he’s kind of a quiet kid. He’s really taken a leadership role on this team.”
Wise said not playing in a summer league and being limited in practices last fall helped him be refreshed mentally.
Now he’s ready to try to help the rebuilt Razorbacks made a run at the SEC title and their 13th consecutive NCAA regional appearance after they went into last season ranked No. 1 in several polls.
At times last season, Wise said, the players got caught up in the team’s high expectations.
“This team’s really loose,” he said. “They have a lot of fun, and that’s what I’m looking for my senior year.”
Wise said he can relate to what his freshman teammates- especially catchers Blake Baxendale, Alex Gosser and Carson Shaddy - are going through as they prepare for the season.
“I try to look back to when I was a freshman and you’re scared to make mistakes. You’re scared to really do anything,” Wise said. “I just want them to realize you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s how you learn.”
Sports, Pages 21 on 01/26/2014