Texas transplants spice up Aggies vs. Hogs series

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, May 18, 2017
Arkansas assistant coach Tony Vitello speaks to his team against Bryant Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, during the inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas assistant coach Tony Vitello speaks to his team against Bryant Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, during the inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas Razorbacks shortstop Jax Biggers has experienced first-hand how Texas A&M fans get on players from visiting teams.

Biggers is from Missouri City, Texas -- less than a two-hour drive from Texas A&M's campus in College Station -- and he attended Aggies games growing up.

Thursday's Ticket

NO. 16 ARKANSAS AT NO. 22 TEXAS A&M

WHEN 6:30 p.m.

WHERE Blue Bell Park, College Station, Texas

RECORDS Arkansas 37-14, 16-10 SEC; Texas A&M 35-18, 15-12

SERIES Texas A&M leads 40-37

PITCHING MATCHUP Arkansas: RHP Trevor Stephan (5-3, 3.21 ERA); Texas A&M: LHP Kaylor Chafin (7-1, 1.79 ERA)

RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.

TV None

INTERNET SEC Network-Plus

"I've been in the student section when I was a kid," Biggers said. "It's kind of fun.

"It'll be different hearing them talk to me, I guess. They don't mean it when the game is over. They're trying to get in your head. Every stadium has it."

Biggers will be among several Razorbacks from Texas playing back home when the No. 16 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (37-14, 16-10 SEC) opens a three-game series against No. 22 Texas A&M (35-18, 15-12) at 6:30 tonight at Blue Bell Park.

Other Razorbacks from Texas include pitcher Trevor Stephan, who will start tonight; outfielder Eric Cole; pitchers Dominic Taccolini, Cannon Chadwick and Kevin Kopps; and backup infielder Jaxon Williams.

"They're good at tuning in to what's important, and they'll prepare the same way they do every weekend and be ready to go," Arkansas assistant coach Tony Vitello said of the Texans turned Razorbacks. "But they'll have a little bit of an extra buzz on the plane ride down there.

"Win or lose, after each of these games it'll be a little easier for them to either celebrate or swallow a tough pill because they're around their families."

Taccolini, a senior from Sugar Land, Texas, said he never was interested in playing for the Aggies.

"Honestly, I'm not really too big a fan of A&M," he said. "I've never really understood the Aggie culture in general. That's why I wanted to come here."

Taccolini pitched for the Razorbacks at Texas A&M two years ago.

"They were pretty on me," Taccolini said. "I had a girlfriend at the time, and they were saying her name. It was a little rattling. You shut them up by pitching well."

Arkansas signed eight players from Texas in November for next season and has six commitments from Texas in the 2018 class, which adds to the competitiveness of the series.

"We have a lot of kids we've recruited from that area who will be at the games this weekend," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "We have some that are already signed and are going to be here in a few months.

"We'll see a lot of those guys throughout the weekend. Hopefully, we play well in front of them."

Van Horn laughed when asked about how many recruits in Texas the Razorbacks and Aggies butt heads on, especially since the 2013 season when Texas A&M joined Arkansas in the SEC.

"Probably just about every one they get and we don't, and vice versa," Van Horn said. "It's a battle to get them out.

"You've got to go down there early and see them as young players and get them to come visit and get them thinking about Arkansas, and that's what we've done."

Van Horn could have been an Aggie.

After his sophomore season at McLennan (Texas) Community College, Van Horn was offered a scholarship by Texas A&M. He accepted an offer from Arkansas, his favorite school growing up in Kansas City, Mo.

Van Horn, the Southwest Conference Newcomer of the Year as the Razorbacks' second baseman in 1982, said he doesn't wonder what would have happened if he had signed with Texas A&M.

"I didn't want to be an Aggie," he said. "I wanted to be a Razorback. So I never think about that."

Biggers, a sophomore batting .325 after transferring from Cisco (Texas) Junior College, said the Aggies didn't recruit him.

"If they did, I would still choose to come here," Biggers said. "So it wouldn't have mattered anyway."

Vitello, the Razorbacks' recruiting coordinator and hitting coach, was an assistant at TCU before coming to Arkansas, so he has strong contacts in Texas.

"Our 2017 class is probably as Texas heavy as any class ever at Arkansas," Vitello said. "A lot of it is that when I was at TCU, those were the guys I knew about.

"Recruiting Texas is important for a lot of schools, and I think there's enough good players out there for everybody. We do pretty well against any school if we can just get the kid here for a visit."

Biggers said it's easy to understand why Arkansas and other schools want players from Texas.

"I think Texas has the best baseball in the country," Biggers said. "I think Texas is a big part of baseball worldwide, along with a couple other states. They're competitive down there."

Baum Stadium and the Razorbacks' indoor practice facility attract Texans to Arkansas, Biggers said, as well as the opportunity to play for Van Horn, Vitello and pitching coach Wes Johnson, a former Dallas Baptist assistant.

Arkansas' natural beauty, Biggers said, also is a plus.

"I think we have great coaches, great facilities," he said. "Obviously, it's definitely a prettier state than Texas."

Sports on 05/18/2017

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