Arkansas Baseball:

Hogs welcomed home; fans firm in support despite runner-up finish

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, June 30, 2018
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn smiles Friday, June 29, 2018, while watching his players and staff exit a bus as fans line the sidewalk at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville to welcome back the Razorback baseball team from its trip to the College World Series.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn smiles Friday, June 29, 2018, while watching his players and staff exit a bus as fans line the sidewalk at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville to welcome back the Razorback baseball team from its trip to the College World Series.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Fans got to cheer for the Arkansas Razorbacks' baseball team at Baum Stadium one last time in 2018.

A crowd of about 250 people -- plus two dogs -- came to Baum Stadium to greet the Razorbacks on Friday after they returned from a two-week stay in Omaha, Neb., where the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville reached the College World Series best-of-three final round against Oregon State.

The Beavers won 5-0 in Thursday's decisive game to win the championship series.

It was the third national championship for Oregon State which denied the Razorbacks their first national title in baseball.

Fans cheered Friday as first Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn got off the team bus, then continued showing their appreciation for the players with loud ovations.

"The support this season has been incredible," Van Horn told the crowd. "Second to none. There is not a better fan base in the country. No doubt about it.

"For those of you that were fortunate enough to go to Omaha, we put on a show up there. I'm talking the fans put on a show."

Ken Hatfield -- who as head football coach led the Razorbacks' to a 55-17-1 record from 1984-89 and was a safety and punt returner on Arkansas' 11-0 team in 1964 -- was among those greeting the baseball team.

"I just couldn't be prouder of Dave and this team," said Hatfield, who also played baseball at Arkansas from 1963-1965. "They've done as good as any Arkansas baseball team in the history of the school and represented us well on this stage."

All six of Arkansas' games in Omaha were nationally televised.

"I don't know if we ever had this much media coverage nationwide about the Razorbacks and Arkansas for that long a period of time," Hatfield said.

Thousands of Arkansas fans went to Omaha for the Razorbacks' games.

"Our fans captivated the whole nation, that's for sure," Hatfield said. "Everybody knows how to call the Hogs anyway."

Arkansas made its ninth College World Series appearance and matched its top finish. The 1979 Razorbacks finished runner-up to Cal State-Fullerton.

Van Horn has led a team to the College World Series seven times, five at Arkansas and two at Nebraska.

"I'll tell you this," Van Horn said. "I've got two coaches out already on the road and we're going to get some more players and we'll be back."

Van Horn, 57, just completed his 16th season at Arkansas and 30th as a head coach going back to 1989 at Texarkana Community College. He said he plans to continue coaching for several more years.

"I think our program is in a good spot," Van Horn said. "Obviously, we're losing a lot of players, but we're also going to get some good ones, and we've got some good ones in our program that will develop and have to step it up next year.

"I feel like I can coach for a long time. We'll see how that ends up. But I'm already thinking about recruiting and thinking about 2019 and how we're going to be able to find our way back up there."

Arkansas (48-21) was picked in the top 10 nationally in most preseason polls.

"I had fun with this team," Van Horn said. "It was a season of high expectations and we ended up finishing No. 2 in the country.

"It's not exactly what we wanted, but it's a great year. For all that was expected, I think the players held up their end."

Vance Arnold, who was Fayetteville High School's baseball coach for 28 years before retiring in 2015, coached two Arkansas starters in second baseman Carson Shaddy and catcher Grant Koch.

"Those two kids are special," said Arnold, who was among Friday's crowd. "For them to get an opportunity to finish up big like they did, I was so happy and proud for them. It gave me goosebumps watching them play in Omaha."

After Arkansas beat Oregon State 4-1 on Tuesday, the Beavers rallied with three runs in the ninth inning for a 5-3 victory on Wednesday.

"They were so close to winning it," Arnold said. "Then all of a sudden it's jerked out from under you and you can't get it back. But they'll go on to have great lives and battle through all this."

Hatfield led Arkansas to back-to-back Southwest Conference titles in 1988 and 1989, but also suffered some tough losses.

"I've been where they've been before," Hatfield said. "You stay around long enough in sports, you've had big moments, and the bigger the moment, the bigger the opportunity you have for the hurt and pain when you lose."

Van Horn said he appreciated Hatfield's presence Friday and his perspective on the Razorbacks' season.

"It's the voice of experience," Van Horn said. "He's been there and done that. Sometimes you just have to live it to know how it feels a little bit. The highs and the lows, that's life. That's sports. You never know what you're going to get.

"Nobody said it was going to be easy or fair, and I think baseball teaches you a lot about what you're going to deal with throughout your life. That's what I told the players a couple times in the last few days."

Arkansas finished 34-4 at Baum Stadium, including NCAA regional and super regional titles.

"We played so well at home," Van Horn said. "Baseball can be a fickle game and things don't go your way a lot of times. You just have a bad day, and we didn't have too many bad days here.

"I think the fans were a big part of it. Baum Stadium was good to us this year. That's for sure. It's the best we've ever played at home since I've been here."

Sports on 06/30/2018

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