Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Plunkett back for 4th go round in Omaha
Arkansas catcher Zack Plunkett bats during an SEC Tournament game against Ole Miss on Friday, May 24, 2019, in Hoover, Ala.
OMAHA, Neb. No player at this week's College World Series has been more times than Arkansas catcher Zack Plunkett.
In fact, it's difficult to imagine any player has been more times.
Plunkett, a fifth-year senior, is in Omaha for the fourth time. He has been the past two seasons with the Razorbacks and went twice as a backup at TCU in 2015 and 2016. The only year Plunkett didn't come to the College World Series was 2017, when he redshirted at Arkansas after transferring.
"I've been extremely blessed to be able to make it here for all four years," Plunkett said. "Not many guys can say they've been four years and I may be the only guy ever to make it two years with two teams.
"I'm really good at giving good restaurant recommendations. I'm good about making sure people are where they need to be. It's kind of become a team joke that I live here."
Despite his many trips, Plunkett has never played a game in Omaha. He was a third-string catcher on the Razorbacks' national runner-up last season and didn't play in any of TCU's eight games during his two trips with the Horned Frogs.
Plunkett isn't likely to start any games this week, either. Arkansas starting catcher Casey Opitz has become one of the nation's best defensively. Plunkett started the Razorbacks' final game at the SEC Tournament last month, but his playing time in the NCAA postseason has been relegated to a single pinch-hit at-bat in the super regional.
"He's always maybe been the backup guy, but one thing about Plunk this year, he's kept a tremendous, tremendous attitude," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We had to talk a lot early in the season and he saw Casey evolve as such an incredible defensive catcher and leader. He took his role. The character he has shown by the way he has acted in the dugout, by coming to practice every day and working hard, it's been really fun to watch."
Plunkett was drafted in the 20th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers last week as a pitcher. He has thrown bullpen the past month for the Razorbacks and has reached 96 mph off the mound. In addition to a fastball, Plunkett throws a slider.
"He's got an elite, elite fastball," said Arkansas pitcher coach Matt Hobbs, who noted Plunkett didn't begin throwing bullpens until shortly before the SEC Tournament. "I think he's got a chance to be a really good pitcher at the next level."
The Dodgers had pre-draft conversations with Plunkett about becoming a pitcher.
"They kind of drafted me to go both ways, to do catching and pitching stuff," Plunkett said. "But I'm really excited to get on the mound to say what I can do."
It isn't likely Plunkett will make it onto the mound in a college game. He acknowledged Friday that the games are "way too important" this time of year to throw an inexperienced pitcher.
He is looking to do whatever the teams asks of him in however many college games he has remaining. And he's hopeful he can leave Omaha this time happier than the previous three.
"I've got one more chance to make a really good memory here," Plunkett said. "Winning a national championship is the only thing I haven't done. I definitely want to do that before I hang up the cleats from college baseball."
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