Logging off: Knight among Razorbacks taking social media hiatus in 2018

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Blaine Knight pitches for Arkansas in the 8th inning against Missouri State Monday, June 5, 2017, during the final game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Blaine Knight pitches for Arkansas in the 8th inning against Missouri State Monday, June 5, 2017, during the final game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

— A quick glance around the field is all it takes for Arkansas players and coaches to know what kind of team they have entering the 2018 season.

Blaine Knight turned down big-league money to head a loaded pitching staff with Keaton McKinney and Isaiah Campbell back in the fold alongside a skilled group of young arms.

Dominic Fletcher, named a freshman All-American following a 12-homer season, anchors the outfield. Grant Koch, a D1Baseball preseason All-American and Arkansas' leading returning home run hitter, manages the gifted rotation as a second-year captain.

It's easy to understand why praise has poured in from far and wide in the last month. Arkansas is ranked in the top five in three national polls and as high as No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll - the program’s highest preseason ranking since 2013.

It would also be easy for the roster to get swept up in the hype. But pitching coach Wes Johnson, Knight and others have crafted a plan to assure that won’t happen — a social media hiatus.

“I just need to worry about pitching and not what people are saying or worry about where I’m ranked in the preseason in the draft,” said Knight, the first Arkansas pitcher to be named a Louisville Slugger preseason All-American since Zach Jackson in 2016. “I just need to worry about pitching and taking this team where we need to go.”

Johnson has implemented the tactic before, challenging former Mississippi State right-hander Dakota Hudson to take a break from social media in 2016 following a strong showing in the Cape Cod League.

Johnson has identified a trend over the years, and relays stories of multiple players who have become absorbed by extensive publicity.

"Then if you have a bad outing there’s going to be some saying you’re the worst we’ve ever had, and ‘What are we doing pitching you on Saturday nights?’" he said.

Hudson went on to lead the Bulldogs' pitching staff with nine wins and a team-high 115 strikeouts in 17 starts the next spring as Mississippi State had a worst-to-first turnaround in the SEC. Johnson hopes the experiment can assist Knight in building on an 8-win campaign in 2017.

“It’s not so much that it’s me passing it on to Blaine, it’s just that I’ve seen what’s happened to so many good players. This is your career,” Johnson said. “When this guy gets caught up in all this his performance suffers. It’s not my views, or imposing that on anybody, it’s just what we’ve seen over history.

“I’ve also talked to Isaiah Campbell a little more. Isaiah obviously has a little pressure on him, but he’s still got stuff to prove, too, because he wasn’t throwing last year. It’s just to help keep them grounded.”

Johnson often tells his staff that it’s “really boring” being a great pitcher. “You don’t call home to your parents and say, ‘Hey, I worked on pickoff throws today,’” Johnson said.

The great ones are creatures of habit and extremely detail oriented, so the fewer distractions in front of them the better, he said.

Knight, admittedly, isn’t a big Twitter user. He has just two tweets to his name since announcing his return to Arkansas on July 7, 2017, and his last tweet came more than two weeks ago in a friendly back and forth with former Mississippi State star and reigning SEC Player of the Year Brent Rooker.

Strong outing or lackluster, Knight won’t be scrolling through his mentions or entering his name in a search bar anytime soon.

“I have it just to keep up with stuff. I kind of need to stay away from it and just focus on baseball,” the wiry junior said. “I think it’d be good for the whole team to do it. It keeps you level-headed and doesn’t let your head get too big.

“It is useful if you use it the right way, but it can be the downfall of a lot of guys if they use it the wrong way.”

Sophomore Evan Lee agrees that taking time off from social media would benefit the team. He, like many other players, use Twitter as a source for daily news and thumb through their timelines to kill time, but logging off for the season will take him back to a simpler time.

“If you get off social media and just play it would be like you were 9-10 years old again where all you cared about was playing the game and getting a snow cone after,” he said. “I didn’t know what a phone was. Not having to worry about what people say if you screw up or what people say if you hit the game-winning home run; just don’t get too high or too low.”

Fletcher has seen firsthand the worst of what social media has to offer. Following a slide that sent LSU second baseman Cole Freeman airborne in last May's SEC Tournament title game, Tigers fans let him have it. He claims it was a clean slide. So did Dave Van Horn and Freeman.

"I still got a couple of messages from LSU fans that weren’t too nice. That was interesting," he added.

The sophomore also knows firing back isn't worth getting into hot water over.

"Everyone is smart enough to know that we all have futures here,” Fletcher said. "And I think it’s good for anyone (to break from social media). The rankings don’t really matter, and taking too much pride in it doesn’t really help with anything.

"You’ve still got to battle every day and get better."

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