Pigs dig the long ball: HR hat was inspired by college football

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, April 27, 2018
Arkansas outfielder Eric Cole is greeted after he hit a home run during a game against Kentucky on Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas outfielder Eric Cole is greeted after he hit a home run during a game against Kentucky on Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— While watching college football last fall, some Arkansas baseball players took note of a trend in the sport.

More football teams were coming up with creative ways to recognize defenders who were forcing turnovers.

At Alabama, there was a replica wrestling title belt called the “Ball Out Belt.” At Georgia, spiked shoulder pads with the word “Savage” across the back. At Virginia Tech, a lunch pail to symbolize a blue collar attitude. At Tennessee, the infamous “Turnover Trashcan,” which had previously been used in practice by John Chavis at Texas A&M and Chad Morris at SMU.

The one that really caught the attention of the Arkansas baseball players was the Miami “Turnover Chain,” a 10-karat gold chain that defenders got to wear on the sideline after recovering a fumble or intercepting a pass. The Razorbacks wanted to create a similar incentive for hitting a home run.

“We thought about a home run chain, but decided we couldn’t do that because everyone else was doing that,” said Hunter Wilson, a junior infielder.

The idea for a home run hat wasn’t conceived until the night before the season opener against Bucknell in February. That’s when Zach Barr, the team’s video director, bought a new-generation version of the Uncle Heavy’s Hog Hat that was made popular in the 1970s, and which The Oklahoman’s Jim Lassiter once wrote was “the most hideous piece of fan paraphernalia ever put on the market” and “is like UFOs: Sightings have been reported all over the world.”

The idea was to put the hat on a batter after he hit a home run, then plaster it with stickers that said “WPS” — short for “Woo Pig Sooie” — after each home run.

“You know this game can be such a frustrating game and there’s a lot of failure, so you need to try to do some things to make it fun,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.

Carson Shaddy was the first to wear the hat after he hit a three-run homer in the second inning of the Razorbacks’ first game against Bucknell. During a 32-4 win the following day, Dominic Fletcher was able to wear the hat for one pitch before Grant Koch hit another home run. Koch had to give the hat away minutes later when Shaddy hit the third homer of the inning.

“It just caught fire from there,” said Wilson, a backup most games who greets home run hitters with the hog hat before slapping them on the rear. “We’re hoping to run out of room for the stickers.”

Hunter Wilson hasn't hit a home run, but he has been a part of the Razorbacks' new home run celebration 63 times. (Photo by Andy Shupe)

Arkansas hit an SEC-best 83 homers last season and is third nationally this year with 63 home runs through 42 games. The Razorbacks are on pace to hit 96 if they play the same number of games as a year ago. A strong candidate to be a national seed this year, it's possible Arkansas could play more games than in 2017.

The school record for home runs is 92, set in 2010 before the NCAA required bat manufacturers to modify bats to reduce exit velocity.

Home runs dropped significantly nationwide in subsequent years. The Razorbacks’ totals were 38 in 2011, 39 in 2012, 27 in 2013 and 28 in 2014.

In 2015, the NCAA modified baseballs to have lower seams, which reduced wind resistance and increased home runs nationwide. Andrew Benintendi hit 20 of the Razorbacks’ 53 that season.

Last season, Chad Spanberger hit 20 of the team’s 83, but this season’s power surge is more of a team effort. Twelve players have hit home runs, with no batter hitting more than nine, but six players hitting more than five.

"Everybody goes up there and you never know who is going to hit a home run, who could go off for two or three home runs in a single day," said Eric Cole, who is tied with Shaddy and Heston Kjerstad for the team lead with nine homers. "It's pretty awesome. In (batting practice), everybody is shooting balls out to every part of the field. It's really something I've never been a part of, where every single person can do it pretty easily."

Arkansas’ home run depth was best displayed during a home series against Kentucky on March 16-17, when eight Razorbacks combined to hit 13 home runs in three games.

“We hit 10 in one day of a doubleheader,” Wilson said. “Watching that is electric, it’s fun and it keeps everybody upbeat in the dugout, and really gets your team going. Having that ability makes the games fun."

As would be expected, the Razorbacks are hitting home runs at a much less frequent pace since the Kentucky series. Arkansas was swept by Mississippi State last weekend and over the final four weeks of the regular season it plays Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia - all of which rank in the top half of the SEC in fewest home runs allowed.

This weekend's opponent, Alabama, has allowed only 24 home runs in 43 games. The Razorbacks have hit 43 home runs in 26 games at Baum Stadium, with nine multi-homer games and four games with at least four home runs.

“Baum Stadium on some days is a good place to hit and some days it’s not," Wilson said.

The ability to hit home runs has allowed Arkansas to come back from deficits in short order. Seven of the Razorbacks’ 29 wins were in games they trailed by at least three runs.

Arkansas scored seven runs on four homers in the final two innings of a comeback win over Kent State on March 11. During an April 17 comeback win over Missouri State, Kjerstad and Martin each hit home runs during a five-run inning that quickly erased a four-run deficit.

Even during a March 31 loss at Ole Miss, the Razorbacks hit four home runs over the final four innings to turn a six-run deficit into a one-run loss.

“I feel with the lineup we have, there is never a game that we’re out of,” Kjerstad said. “We’re all confident that we will be able to scratch some more runs on the board as the game goes along.”

“I think they’ve got a lot of guys that are capable of getting the ball in the air and hitting the ball over the wall,” Missouri State coach Keith Guttin said after the Bears’ loss to Arkansas on April 17. “That’s a very good offensive team.”


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