Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and its All-America Committee, voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs: Coaches ready to get in baseball's best facility
Construction crews work at the site of the future Hunt Baseball Development Center adjacent to Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
Pictures are worth thousands of words, but seeing is believing.
With that in mind, the wonderful recruiting classes Arkansas baseball coaches continue to sign and commit for future years have not seen the new Hunt Baseball Development Center behind the right field fence at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Surely, it will help recruiting when potential recruits can make official visits to campus. They can’t right now with covid-19 restrictions in place by the NCAA.
Oh, they might come on their own and drive around Baum-Walker Stadium. Prospects might come to games on their own when the season begins in February. But they can’t walk inside that massive facility expected to be completed in April.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and his assistants — pitching coach Matt Hobbs and hitting coach Nate Thompson — pinch themselves daily as they look at their office windows at what is being built. It’s an amazing place.
A lot of the new building is dedicated to a performance center for pitchers. Hobbs helped design a state of the art facility at Wake Forest in his previous job that draws rave reviews, but this blows it out of the water. Thompson will get what he needs to work with hitters, too.
“You really can’t describe what we are getting,” Hobbs said, noting that neither words nor pictures do it justice.
“We are telling people it’s the best. I’m not talking about college baseball or MLB. We are just saying it’s the best in the world.”
Yes, it will help recruiting, but Van Horn said it’s not really the purpose of building the new facility. Recruiting was already top shelf and there is plenty to show off with Baum-Walker Stadium and the Fowler Center indoor facility next door.
“What we are getting is all about development,” Van Horn said. “It’s not going to help us by much in recruiting in the near future because we’ve already gotten a lot committed for the 2023, 2024 and 2025 classes.
“Yes, those guys want to come visit and see it, but it’s going to be hard to get many more for those classes.”
What Van Horn knows is that those are the players who are going to blossom in the new workout facility.
“I don’t think there is any way to beat what we are getting,” Van Horn said. “It’s an amazing place.”
There are not frequent tours because of covid-19 restrictions in the work place — both for Van Horn and his coaches, and to make sure construction doesn’t slow. The last thing that’s needed is for workers to have to stay home because of an outbreak of the virus in the construction zone.
“So we don’t go over there,” Van Horn said. “We’ve had a couple of tours, but that’s it. I don’t have to go in it. I know what it’s going to be, again, just amazing.
“The new locker room is amazing, the training room is just out of this world and the multiple areas to improve our performance is just excellent.”
It’s the kind of facility that continues to make MLB excited to take more college players in the draft. They know the developmental side of college baseball is now off the charts, ahead of what was happening in the minor leagues. MLB has restructured its farm systems, eliminating teams.
“I think pro baseball thinks now that we can (develop players) quicker,” Van Horn said. “MLB was wasting money taking younger players. The percentages point to going with college players. You have a lot better shot at getting to the major leagues if you come to college.”
You should say, come to Arkansas.
“I think our 2021 class is really good, really athletic,” Van Horn said. “If we can get them to school, we are going to get them in this facility and develop them. It’s an exciting time for us.
“I think we are going to be tough to beat.”
Hobbs said the youngsters on this year's team are going to develop much faster in the new building.
“They will get way better,” Hobbs said. “When I was at Wake, what we had was much better than what anyone else had, but this is a huge step up.
“But, it only matters as much as our coaches are able to utilize it. Coach Van Horn has challenged us to do more for our players. It will enable us to do more.”
With the opening of the new facility comes pressure.
“I feel it and Nate feels it,” Hobbs said. “We want to earn it. Coach Van Horn has earned it with what he’s done here, but we still need to earn it, too. We are growing as coaches and want to perform at the highest level to earn the right (to move into the new facility).”
Because of covid-19, the baseball world has not seen it.
“There are countless people calling me — and I’m sure Coach Van Horn — who want to come see it,” Hobbs said. “They want to come for a week and see how it’s used.”
When you are building the best, it creates a buzz.
Every baseball fan has watched the movie Field of Dreams. So if you create a Building of Dreams, it may be that “they will come” is still appropriate.
Arkansas coaches have a more appropriate phrase: “They will come — and develop.”
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