Hogs have home fielding advantage

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, June 8, 2018
Arkansas outfielder Dominic Fletcher lays out to make a catch during a game against Texas on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas outfielder Dominic Fletcher lays out to make a catch during a game against Texas on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— One explanation on the discrepancy between Arkansas’ success at home and away this season centers around the play of the Razorbacks’ defense.

In 35 on-campus home games, the Razorbacks have committed 25 errors and have a 32-3 record.

In 25 games away from Baum Stadium, Arkansas has committed 36 errors and has a record of 10-15.

Unearned runs were responsible for the winning run in seven of those losses.

Arkansas players say familiarity with their home park can be attributed to their stronger defensive play at home.

“As an infielder, one of the things I look for is the grass or how the ball skips off the dirt, or whether the dirt is clumpy or dry,” second baseman Carson Shaddy said. “Getting to be at home and know your home field and your home turf is helpful.”

Arkansas has a traditional playing surface with natural grass in the infield and outfield, dirt base paths and warning tracks, and moderate room between the foul lines and out-of-play areas such as the dugouts and seats.

It isn’t that way everywhere, though, and certainly not in the stadiums where the Razorbacks have played this year. At Florida, foul territory is cavernous; at Charlotte, the field was all turf; and at Mississippi State, the field alternates between grass and turf at various spots.

“Here I like it a lot because it’s all grass and dirt, a plain surface,” outfielder Heston Kjerstad said. “Across college baseball some have turf, some have turf and grass, and you know that’s what you do when you show up the day before to practice, you’re feeling out the wall, the warning tracks and how much territory you actually have and what is going to happen if the ball goes off the wall and stuff.”

Arkansas didn’t practice the day before at least three games away from home this season: at Charlotte on March 21, against Grambling State in North Little Rock on April 10 and against South Carolina at the SEC Tournament on May 23.

The Razorbacks committed a season-high five errors in their last game against the Gamecocks, a 13-8 win. Because of preceding tournament games, Arkansas players never stepped on the field at Hoover Met until 30 minutes before the game, so it took infield and outfield practice on a nearby field instead of inside the stadium.

“You’ve got to know how many steps you have before you run into the wall or get to the warning track,” outfielder Eric Cole said. “You’ve got to plan on how far you’re going before you slow down. You definitely have to know your surroundings.

“We practice here every day and we’ve been practicing here since September. It’s easier to field on a field that you’re used to instead of going out for practice one day.”

Kjerstad credited knowing his surroundings with the home-run robbing catch during the sixth inning of the Razorbacks’ 4-3 win over Dallas Baptist in their regional championship last Sunday.

“I felt my first step and then my second one and then knew I had to jump or else I’d go straight into the wall,” Kjerstad said.

It was one of several great defensive plays the Razorbacks have turned in at home. In some instances those plays have kept earned runs off the board.

Dominic Fletcher has had numerous web gems fielding and throwing from his position in center field, including two catches against Auburn that Tigers coach Butch Thompson said cost his team four runs; infielder Hunter Wilson turned in ESPN SportsCenter’s No. 1 play of the day with a glove toss to first base during a game against Texas in March; and just last Saturday first baseman Jared Gates made a diving grab on a ball in foul ground against Southern Miss.

“We've played well here,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “We've fielded the ball and...I think overall we’ve played pretty good defense.”

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