HOOVER, Ala. — Carson Shaddy was 4 years old when the feeling struck him. A lifelong Arkansas resident, like everyone else he was hit with Woo Pig fever.
Shaddy is well known among Arkansas baseball faithful. He’s been a staple in Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn’s lineup since midway through his redshirt freshman year two seasons ago. He was the team’s best hitter in 2016 and is one of the best this season, hitting .293 with 8 home runs and 39 RBI.
And now he is in the home stretch. Four years of college are down. Three years of participating in baseball are nearly finished. Shaddy leads his Diamond Hogs team into the SEC Tournament, likely his last with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas is the No. 4-seed in the 12-team tourney. Its first game comes late Wednesday against the winner of Georgia versus Mississippi State. The Razorbacks received a first-round bye by virtue of finishing in the top 4 in the conference. And that was no small feat considering last year’s team didn’t even make it to Hoover. It was last in the SEC.
It’s that Woo Pig spirit, Shaddy said, that helped him develop leadership ability in returning the Razorbacks to their rightful place.
“I’ve said for a year that I was so embarrassed at what we did last year just because I’m from Arkansas,” Shaddy said. “I know how hard it is to be an Arkansas fan when your team is not very good.”
Hog wild for life
Shaddy is more than just local. He is a Fayetteville High School grad. The school borders the University of Arkansas. Hit a ball far enough out of the FHS baseball stadium and it lands on the college campus. Plus, Shaddy’s father, Chris, played at Arkansas in the early 1980s. Chris Shaddy played middle infield with Van Horn in 1982.
Yeah, Razorbacks fever hit Carson Shaddy early.
That familial connection did him no favors when it came time for college. No one was beating down his door with an offer. Van Horn knew who Shaddy was, but no one at Arkansas had even talked to Shaddy about being a walk-on. He was going to Crowder, a junior college in Neosho, Mo.
Didn’t matter he would be Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year as a 5-foot-9, 155-pound senior. He needed a break to be noticed.
“I was a shortstop, hadn’t grown into my body yet. I was catching a little bit, too,” Shaddy said. “We were a weekend out of the state tournament. We were at Bentonville and coach Van Horn saw me play, invited me to be a walk-on.”
Crowder College out. University of Arkansas in.
Being Hogs with his boys
Shaddy had a crew in high school, a clutch of four best friends. And they were all together when Shaddy received word from Van Horn. You might know them. Austin Allen. Alex Brignoni. Brooks Ellis. All three were headed to Arkansas on scholarship to play football for Bret Bielema. Shaddy was the lone one left out until his offer came.
Their friendship is real and strong and still there. Shaddy’s tone shifts quickly when he talks about his pals.
“Me, [Austin Allen] and Brooks Ellis and Alex Brignoni, those are my guys. Man, it was awesome,” Shaddy said. “I still remember the day I got the phone call from Coach Van Horn, I was with all those guys. Watching Austin develop. Seeing Brooks play since a freshman. It kind of sucks being in the stands having your best friends on the field and people talking bad about them.”
Allen is entering his second year as Arkansas starting quarterback. Pro Football Focus calls him the best quarterback in the SEC. Ellis spent four seasons as a starting linebacker for the Razorbacks. Brignoni had medical issues and was unable to play, but he remains an Arkansas student.
No, there was no curing the fever.
Maybe the final days
Shaddy bounced around in his first competitive season at Arkansas. His versatility was an asset. Shaddy played all three outfield spots, second base, third base and catcher. He could play shortstop — his high school position — in a pinch.
He carried a jack-of-all-trades quality since high school. Shaddy said he likes to model his game after Ben Zobrist, a member of the Chicago Cubs who has played every position on the diamond except catcher. This season Zobrist already played 26 games in the outfield and 21 at second base, and one at first for good measure.
For those who know history, Shaddy’s game is comparable to that of Craig Biggio, a 2015 Hall of Famer. Biggio began his career with the Houston Astros as a catcher, moved to second base, then the outfield and back to second. He retired as Astros career leader in games, hits, runs, doubles and total bases.
That’s sort of how Shaddy has been in three years at Arkansas. Flexible. Multi-talented. Carrying a stick everywhere. He knows these might be the final days of playing at Arkansas. A junior, Shaddy likely will be an early selection in this summer’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.
He’s been to the College World Series. He brought Arkansas back to being a force after a year in the dregs. Little is left for Shaddy to achieve.
Save one thing: curing that pesky fever. But that probably won’t happen anytime soon.
“I wanted to play for the Razorbacks since I was 4 years old,” Shaddy said. “Been Hog wild my whole life.”