With only two days of media availability and no game to focus on Saturday, bye weeks for media members who cover Arkansas can lag toward the end of the week. Very little news to report and coming off a 56-3 loss to Auburn, only so much can be said about that performance.
Our Jason Kersey and Trent Shadid have been breaking down Arkansas’ personnel units this bye week to help pass the time. On Friday, it was linebackers and defensive line. For me, let me get a little personal.
There was a time in my life I was an Arkansas “fan.”
I wasn’t hardcore. Just a bit. I knew several players who were my age back in the 2003-2007 seasons and I had known them from childhood, some of them. I wanted my pals to play well. Throw in, too, I’m from just a 40-minute drive away and Fayetteville was that town you took your high school girlfriend to if you wanted to go somewhere “nice,” and I was more partial to the Razorbacks than any of the teams in my actual home state of Oklahoma.
The older I’ve become, though, the more I don’t have teams I root for anymore. I quit on the NFL when it became a ridiculously run league four years ago. Baseball wore me down with its lengthy season. The only thing I watch at home for fun is hockey. Plus, being in sports my entire adult life, the phrase “when you see how the sausage is made” applies. I root for individuals, good people, more than I care whatsoever about which team wins.
Perhaps that’s colored my coverage of Arkansas since I’ve been on this gig. Long-time followers of my work know my aim is to keep it 100, as the kids say. Call out the crap. Praise when it’s worthy. I’m of the opinion readers want honesty. Besides, it’s how I was taught. Opinions are OK when they’re backed up by evidence.
I’ve been called a Bret Bielema hater and a homer. More the former. I’ve been called a Mike Anderson apologist and M.A.’s biggest critic. More the former again. Baseball remains my favorite sport and I almost always go to bat — sorry, pun — for Dave Van Horn. He’s one of the best coaches in America. But he has also become upset with me a time or two because of the questions I’ve asked, mostly last year.
Asking hard questions isn’t needling. It’s doing a job. Calling a coach, or a player, out for something is part of it. Writing how excellent they are when they do something good is, too. No one is going to “take access away” because of something negative any of us write or say as long as what’s written or spoken has a measure of genuineness about it. Now, the coach may be perturbed for a few days, but that’s part of it.
It isn’t our job to root for the teams. Our job is to cover them. Sometimes that’s harder than it appears. We do want, no matter what, our readers to enjoy what they read. All of us. At SEC Country or elsewhere. Ultimately, it’s about you.
All that said, but one thing is for sure.
It’s always a blast and you never know what’s going to happen next.
Arkansas baseball will not finish last in the SEC again.
That isn’t much of a limb to go out on there, but no one would have thought the Razorbacks would have done it last year, either. With its best two hitters — and two of the better ones in the SEC — back, a bevy of young arms and core of role players, coach Van Horn sounded chipper Thursday as Arkansas closed its fall baseball season with the media.
“I think there are a lot of players; we’re really looking forward to getting back on the field the way we finished last spring,” Van Horn said. “Comparing the fall we just finished to last fall, it was so much better. Just the way the kids moved around the field. The depth of our scrimmages, just made for a better fall.”
Little is settled with the lineup, positions or pitching staff, although it’s only late October. No doubt, however, Luke Bonfield and Carson Shaddy will be somewhere out there and within the top four or five hitting.
Shaddy is the ultimate utility player. He led the team in hitting at .332. His ability to play all over the diamond — Van Horn said he’ll play lots of third base, second base, some outfield, maybe a little catcher and some first base, too — is a blessing for a team filling gaps.
Bonfield will likely play left field, where he’s been the last two seasons, with an occasional designated hitter role. He was second on the team with a .304 average and he also knocked in a team-high 39 runners.
Also in the outfield, Chad Spanberger, Eric Cole and Jake Arledge return as semi-regulars from last season. Spanberger can also shift down and play some first base, where Arkansas has to replace Clark Eagan. Jared Gates, a junior college transfer, played a lot there in the fall, but isn’t a lock. Finding a new shortstop to come in for the graduated Michael Bernal is one of the big questions over the winter. And if Shaddy plays second, a third baseman must also be found.
Pitching-wise, Isiah Campbell and Blaine Knight seem near locks for weekend rotation spots. Both sophomores, they saw more time as starters as the year progressed. Keaton McKinney, a starter the last two years, could return there but also could pitch out of the bullpen, Van Horn said. Dominic Taccolini is the same, though Van Horn figures he’ll be more middle relief.
The schedule is demanding, even the nonconference portion. Eight of those 15 opponents finished last year with a better RPI than the Razorbacks. Six of those eight were in the top 100. The SEC part of the schedule sees heavy hitters Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU all visit Baum Stadium.
“I feel like we have a lot more depth offensively from both left and right-hand hitters,” Van Horn said. “I think it’ll keep them on their toes, working hard and not taking a pitch off or a day off practice mentally. The competition should make us better.”
You can find the compelete schedule here. The season begins Feb. 17 at home against Miami (Ohio).
Thursday was a banner day for the assembled Arkansas beat reporters and Sports Information Department. The first (hopefully annual) Media/SID flag football game was a triumphant success … for my team.
Jason Kersey and I picked squads from about 25 of us, and I’m afraid my SEC colleague would not make a good general manager. We rolled his team, 58-28, and it wasn’t even that close.
As for how I did personally, well, it’s hard to stop a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder. … Not really, it isn’t. I’m 32 and heavier than I’ve ever been before, so I’m just glad I came out alive. Somehow WholeHogsSports’ Jimmy Carter did, too.
— Eric Bolin (@ericwbolin) October 27, 2016
Big thanks to Patrick Pierson, the football SID, for putting things together and allowing us to relive some glory days inside Donald W. Reynolds Stadium. The truth is, we have a great crew of media folks and SIDs who are great together, all of us. We (OK, I) may bag on them sometimes, but it’s all in love. There’s not a soul out there I don’t get along with.
But, heads up, the chop-busting won’t stop. It’s kind of my thing.
Arkansas snapped a eight-match losing streak late Wednesday night as it beat Mississippi State in four sets. The Razorbacks (4-18, 2-8) are now a game up on Georgia in the SEC standings as both sit at the bottom of the league. Arkansas next plays those Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon at Barnhill Arena to cap a four-match home stand.
Arkansas’ fifth-ranked cross country team is seeking a 49th SEC title when Fayetteville hosts the conference championships on Friday. In 25 years in the SEC, Arkansas has won 23 team titles in the sport. The Hogs are the favorites again this year. The meet starts at 10 a.m. at Agri Park.
Don’t forget: Arkansas basketball starts its exhibition season Friday night at Bud Walton Arena. Central Missouri visits.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
Just another reason I don’t carry cash.
This guy in Little Rock was robbed at gunpoint and the assailant took the man’s keys. Later, said assailiant returned the man’s keys when he learned, well the victim didn’t have any money. This story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
How nice of him.