Smittle's 15 minutes of fame 33 years in the making

Bobby Smittle points at the home plate umpire during a game against South Carolina on Sunday, June 10, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— It has been quite the week for Bobby Smittle.

You probably know him better as "Hognoxious," the heckling nickname he has earned over more than three decades shouting from the seats at two Arkansas baseball parks.

Smittle, a 59-year-old insurance agent from Cave Springs, had a prime position on ESPN's telecasts of the Razorbacks' super regional win over South Carolina. After he pointed and stared down umpire Mike Morris for several minutes during the second inning of Arkansas' loss to the Gamecocks on Sunday, Smittle was everywhere. He was featured on SportsCenter, had his picture plastered across social media and was the topic of multiple talk shows, including his favorite show hosted by Dan LeBatard.

"The best part was my daughter, who lives in Little Rock, texting me Monday morning and saying, 'Dad, did you know you're going viral?'" Smittle said. "I said, 'Yes, I'm sorry about that. Are you going to have to leave town?' She said not yet, but was making a plan."

What the ESPN cameras picked up was a small taste of what Arkansas fans - and opposing teams and umpires - have experienced for years. Smittle is as much a part of the Baum Stadium experience as the seventh-inning stretch and the kettle corn.

For 33 years, Smittle has been Arkansas' most recognizable baseball fan. Sitting atop the home dugout, his antics alone are almost worth the price of admission.

As a heckler, few do it better. It's no coincidence his nickname has stuck for well over a quarter-century.

"If you can get in the head of the players or the umpire, you've done something for the home team," Smittle said. "I feel like a ticket to go to a ballgame is not permission to be entertained; it's a license to go to work. It's your job to do whatever you can within the limits to get your team an advantage."

Coaches, players and umpires can recall Smittle at the drop of a hat. David Donague, a 14-year umpire veteran in the Southwest Conference, said he used to dread going to George Cole Field because he knew Smittle would be waiting on him.

"When I first started umpiring up there at the university, he wasn't around," Donague said. "Then one day this crazy fan showed up and started hollering and carrying on. He had it out for everybody. I would think, 'Man, I hate you.'

"Back then I wore transition lenses on the field and they would turn really dark during day games. That made me an easy target. He and his buddies would get on me and say things like, 'You're blind! Look at your glasses!' From then on I always wore contacts on the field."

Donague has since relocated to the Fayetteville area and has attended baseball games with Smittle. It has given him an appreciation for the Razorbacks' loudest fan.

"Now I just love the guy," Donague said. "He doesn't use profanity and he's just funny. As an umpire I didn't think he was very funny, but now I enjoy it.

"He's not trying to be offensive and is just having fun. He's a good guy now that I'm on the other end."

Longtime Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn said he only knew of Smittle as "the guy waving the state flag" at the games for years. That changed one night when he attended a women's basketball game and Hognoxious was putting on a show.

"He was hilarious," DeBriyn said. "When I left I thought, 'That's the guy with the flag at the baseball games.'

"He always had a commotion around him. He would do all these gyrations and dances. He had as good of line as anybody had."

DeBriyn attributed Smittle's wittiness to his knowledge of the game.

"He knows baseball well and that makes all of his stuff probably a little better," DeBriyn said.

"You remember the various people like the wild bunch at Texas or some loud people at LSU. It creates attention to them that players seem to tune into it. You become concious of what you're doing because of what is being said and it distracts them from their focus. Some players are able to tune that out, but a lot don't."

Smittle was in rare form for a game against Texas in 2012 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn was among those who noticed him and a day later was asked a question by Smittle at the monthly Swatter's Club meeting.

"I'll get to your question in a minute," Van Horn said, "but I want to say I thought it was hilarious when that Texas fan sitting behind home plate screamed across the ballpark for you to shut up.

"Maybe we need to sit you above their dugout next time."

Smittle said he will be at the College World Series to watch the Razorbacks and Longhorns play again this weekend.

Arkansas baseball games have provided numerous memories for Smittle. He sang the national anthem, led the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "This is Baseball," and made lifelong friendships with other fans he considers family.

When Smittle went to his first game at George Cole Field, he had no idea he would eventually become a fixture.

"We went to the first night game against Texas and saw Ralph Kraus hit a home run to win it," Smittle recalled of the Razorbacks' 5-4 win over the No. 2 Longhorns on March 22, 1985, when an overflow crowd of 3,175 attended the Razorbacks' first home game under the lights. "We said, 'Hey, this looks like a lot of fun. Let's go back again.'"

Soon, Smittle bought four season tickets for $25 apiece and he and his friends were attending games regularly. With crowds in those days consisting largely of family and friends of the coaches and players, Smittle became an attraction in the stands.

"I was carrying a bag that had a whistle and a horn," Smittle said. "I wasn't just a fan making the noise, I was the sound effects machine.

"I was going to be rowdy and if the people around me didn't like it they could either move or ask me to move. Instead, I got a bunch of punches in the back when something happened and they disagreed. They would say, 'Tell 'em, Bobby!' So I'd get up and rail against the call, even if I thought it was right.

"If they wanted me to fuss about it, that was my job."

Smittle is photographed for a 2012 feature in Hawgs Illustrated. (Photo by Marc F. Henning)

Smittle kept that job through the 2009 season, but in 2010 and 2011 he was missing from his seat in Section 112, Row E, Seat 1. He turned in his noisemakers for a red blazer and became a head usher at the ballpark.

"The ushers had been very good to me as a fan," he said. "When (longtime head ushers John Phillips and Curt Yates) decided to hang it up, they asked if I would be one of the two guys to take over for them. I felt strongly enough about the ushers that I wanted the same type of fan interaction for the ushers to continue. They did things right."

Arkansas restructured its usher program prior to the 2012 season and Smittle was told he could work basketball or baseball games. It was an easy decision.

"People had been mad at me for two baseball seasons because I wasn't down there in the front row where I was supposed to be," Smittle said. "I almost felt like when I wasn't sitting down there, folks should get 50 cents or a dollar back on the price of their ticket because they weren't getting their full entertainment value."

Editor's Note: A version of this story previously ran in Hawgs Illustrated