State of the Hogs: Bulked-up pitchers find outdoor time in Omaha

By: Clay Henry
Published: Sunday, June 24, 2018
From left: Arkansas strength coach Blaine Kinsley and pitchers Isaiah Campbell, Blaine Knight and Matt Cronin watch during practice Sunday, June 24, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.
Photo by Ben Goff
From left: Arkansas strength coach Blaine Kinsley and pitchers Isaiah Campbell, Blaine Knight and Matt Cronin watch during practice Sunday, June 24, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.

— There are fun tales about what the Arkansas players have done to fill the huge amount of spare time in Omaha during the College World Series.

ESPN baseball analyst Kyle Peterson has given pitchers Blaine Knight and Matt Cronin insight to the best fishing holes in his hometown, including hosting a trip to his best spot Sunday afternoon after practice.

Knight and Cronin shared their secret bait during practice before the fishing trip. They resorted to grocery store fare when their favorite artificial lures didn't work early in the week.

“We'd been at Lake Bennington all afternoon when some of the locals came over to help us,” Knight said. “They told us to get some hot dogs.

“So we left and went to the store. We came back and it didn't take 10 minutes before we were catching fish.”

Cronin landed a bass that weighed in the neighborhood of 6 pounds. Knight didn't catch any bass, but began to pull in huge catfish.

They'll try to pull in a victory Monday night when they face Oregon State in the first game of the best-of-three CWS finals.

Knight didn't eat any of the hot dogs. He's eaten everything in sight this year as he's began to put a few pounds on his skinny 6-3 frame.

First-year strength coach Blaine Kinsley gets periodic mentions from Dave Van Horn as the Hogs broke the school record for home run record. But it may be his work with Knight, the UA ace with a 13-0 record ahead of Monday night's start against OSU, that is most impressive.

“It's just him buying in and doing the hard work,” Kinsley said. “He's putting in the calories. He gets that you have to do the work to have a long career so he's all bought in.

“I write up the plan and give it to him. He's the one doing the work."

Kinsley said Knight weighs 174 pounds, up from 153 pounds at the beginning of the year.

“That weight has helped his average velocity stay up and he's about to go for his 14th win this week," Kinsley said.

Van Horn gave Kinsley props during the CWS media briefing Sunday.

“Our strength and conditioning coach has done a tremendous job with our program,” Van Horn said. “It's his first season here and I feel like I've got another coach.

“He's earned the players' respect. They know he's looking out for them, but he's also getting after them. We've maintained our strength throughout the season. I can't say that that's always the case.

“We have guys that like to work out and lift. We've worked out three or four times. Usually the way we've been handling it, an example, we'll work out for an hour and 15 minutes at Creighton, then we'll go into their weight room across the street.

“And they all have their individual workouts and trying to maintain the strength that they have. It's a long season. So it's been a great thing having (Kinsley) in our program this year.”

Kinsley has worked in college baseball and with the Cardinals' Class AA team in Springfield, Mo., but he had never been to the CWS before this week.

“I actually interviewed for a job to work in the Royals organization (for an Omaha team), then took a job with the Cardinals (at Springfield),” Kinsley said. “I told myself I would never come to Omaha (for the CWS) unless I was part of a team.

“It's been awesome. It's exciting. I brought my parents and my wife to share this experience.”

Kinsley is easy to spot on the practice field. He's always dressed the same, in all black workout clothes, with his black locks held back by a camo headband with a Razorback logo.

“I have my ritual,” he said. “It's always all black every week. We've been winning, so I've stayed with it all year. I'll be in my all-black Easton T, black shorts, black shoes.”

Kinsley's work has been evident on the mound and at the plate. The Hogs have amassed a school-record 98 homers this season and have five players with at least 10, led by Heston Kjerstad and Eric Cole with 14 apiece.

“I do get really excited when we hit home runs, but we have very good players and I'm just here to complement them,” Kinsley said. “I'm here to help them have long careers, even beyond when they play in Omaha.

“All of the guys have done a really good job of buying in, trusting the process.

“Blaine Knight, Isaiah Campbell and even Kacey Murphy have gotten stronger throughout the year because they consistently buy-in to what we do.

“Even our freshmen, Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin, have gotten stronger now than they were in the fall.”

The lifting during the season has been a huge part of the team's successes.

“We stay consistent on their weight-lifting program,” Kinsley said. “We track their weight weekly. If guys are fluctuating on their weight, we'll meet in the morning and sometimes have a breakfast club. We'll get them up and get more calories in them.

“The biggest thing is to get to this point is to feel strong and have the same weight you had at the beginning of the season.

“When we see them at the weigh-ins stay the same, they feel strong in the box and feel strong on the mound. The performances have prevailed from that."

Kinsley said his workouts are "total body lifts" and put a lot of emphasis on legs and core.

“They throw a lot which is a pressing movement, so we do the reverse, lots of pulls," Kinsley said. "There are also a lot of squats, a lot of steps up and leg stuff.

“We keep everything three reps. They can go heavy and they won't be sore the next day.”

Construction should begin soon on a new facility at Baum Stadium - a 30,000-square foot combination of locker room and weight room.

“I'm very excited,” Kinsley said. “These guys spend a lot of time there and they deserve something great to lift in and get ready for the season. It will help our team and will also be huge from a recruiting stand point.”

It's something that current players know will be used beyond when they are playing with the Razorbacks. They know they will stick with Kinsley's plans and utilize the new UA facility.

“He's been huge for me,” Knight said. “I know I have not lost velocity this year like I have in the past. I am bigger although you really can't see it. I've gained during the season and I had not done that before.”

Knight doesn't look like a weight lifter, but claims it's now in his daily rituals – kind of like fishing and hunting. There weren't any pictures in his phone of the fish caught in Omaha.

“But do you want to see some of my duck pictures?” said Knight, who quickly found some on his phone.

Yes, that's the Knight that everyone knows and loves back home in Bryant. Van Horn loves him, too. He doesn't mind the fishing trips in Omaha.

“I told them to go fishing,” Van Horn said. “They've put in the work. Look at Blaine Knight now, he's worked so hard to gain some weight. What else does he need to do this afternoon? Let them go fishing.”

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