Arkansas fans show loyalty, perseverance with baseball team

By: Rick Fires
Published: Sunday, July 1, 2018
Arkansas fans cheer during the second inning of Game 2 of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals between Oregon State and Arkansas in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Arkansas fans cheer during the second inning of Game 2 of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals between Oregon State and Arkansas in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

One strike. One lousy strike.

That's how close Arkansas came to winning its first national championship in baseball and its first championship in a major sports since 1994. Disappointing, for sure. But Arkansas fans stood in the midday heat anyway on Friday and called the Hogs even before the bus carrying the team from Omaha, Neb., came to a full stop in front of Baum Stadium.

Jean Neuberger, 71, of Fayetteville was among 250 fans who greeted the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville baseball team after it lost to Oregon State in the deciding game of the College World Series.

Being a fan can be emotionally and financially draining, especially among die-hards who put so much into supporting their favorite team. Neuberger has been doing it as a fan of the Razorbacks since he was eight years old.

"I grew up in south Arkansas and latched onto the Hogs in 1954," Neuberger said. "I remember the 15-14 (football) game when the Texas Longhorns beat us here. I'm not over that, but I can get over this because the team gave us a wonderful year. We hate it, but they hate it worse. It's heartbreaking, but I thought the least I could do was come out and welcome them back home."

Razorbacks fans delivered even while their team fell just short. I witnessed the stunning turnaround of emotion at Baum Stadium on Wednesday night when a crowd of about 4,000 watched the game on the scoreboard in right field. The scene in the ninth inning was particularly painful for fans who rose to their feet in unison, hoping and maybe even praying for the final out that would secure Arkansas' first national championship in baseball.

A woman behind me, who only wanted to be identified as "Grandmother Razorback" had driven Wednesday by herself from Stuttgart to Fayetteville to be part of what she had hoped would be a celebration among Razorback fans who couldn't make it to Omaha. She paced back-and-forth on the concourse and only occasionally looked at the scoreboard to see what was happening. Another woman turned around in her seat and refused to look while stationed a few feet from a man who wore a cap for good luck from Arkansas' national championship in basketball in 1994.

The collective groan that overtook the stadium when a pop up dropped between three players in foul territory was the beginning of the end for Arkansas, which lost its final two games 5-3 and 5-0.

Finishing second place in a national tournament is generally cause for celebration. But the painful way the Hogs lost Game 2 will hurt for a while, like a high, inside fastball from a power pitcher.

"This game can be cruel sometimes, but we're going to move on," said Melissa White, 61, of Fayetteville. "This team is going to do it. They have unfinished business."

So, the Razorbacks didn't win it all this year in Omaha. But this baseball team transformed Arkansas into a One-Hog state again weeks after the fan base was divided over whether the Razorbacks should play football games in Little Rock anymore.

"This team means so much to the entire fan base," said David Carnevale, 21, of Fayetteville, who wore a shirt that read "Saturdays are the Baum". "There's no pro teams here, so it's all about the Razorbacks. To finish second out of more than 200 Division I teams that play college baseball says a lot about this team."

Anyone who watched the College World Series had to be impressed with Razorback fans who dominated the crowds in Omaha and placed 4,000 more into an empty stadium in Fayetteville just to watch the game on TV.

Maybe the Razorbacks will arrive next year at Baum Stadium with a championship trophy. Maybe not.

The uncertainty is part of being a fan.

Sports on 07/01/2018

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