Ah, baseball. America's Pastime(TM). Full of superstitions, unwritten rules, almost chess-like offensive and defensive strategies, and other idiosyncrasies for the junkies; a good excuse to barbeque and get drunk for everybody else. What's not to love, right?
The 2012 season was a banner year for the Diamond Hogs, culminating in a College World Series berth and eventual 3rd place overall finish. But, this season has the potential to be even better, with the Razorbacks ranked in the top 3 of every major preseason poll (and #1 overall per Collegiate Baseball, the NCBWA, and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll). For those that have followed Arkansas baseball over the past few seasons, the make-up of the 2013 squad will look fairly familiar - built around a nasty pitching staff (highlighted by All-Americans Ryne Stanek and Colby Suggs) and the patented Dave Van Horn small-ball that we've all come to love when it works (and curse about when it doesn't).
The 2013 schedule features match-ups with Arizona St., Gonzaga, and Pacific at the the Coca-Cola Classic, as well as a midweek game with OU, a road series at Nebraska, and a midweek series against New Mexico. Series against Western Illinois, New Orleans, Evansville, San Diego State, Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley (note for central Arkansas fans: one game of this series is in North Little Rock, so take advantage), and Missouri State round out the out-of-conference slate. Much like it is in football, the SEC is the premier conference for college baseball, which makes for a stout conference slate. This season is no exception, with as many as 9 SEC teams (including Arkansas) ranked in the various polls (and the other 5 at least receiving votes). The home conference schedule features Ole Miss, MSU, LSU, TAMU, and Tennessee (all but the Volunteers are currently ranked in some poll or another), and the Razorbacks travel to face South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Auburn.
If you're looking for a primer on Arkansas' baseball pedigree, I'd invite you to check out the very first formal baseball article written on this site (written by yours truly, nearly 3 years ago). The nuances of college baseball make for great opportunities for discussion. Recruiting is totally different: there's extremely limited scholarships, and high school players can go to the MLB immediately, even after signing a LOI. But, if they make it to campus, they have to stay until they're 21. Sudden rule changes can have a major effect on the game, like the switch from wooden bats to composite bats in 2011 necessitating a change in offensive strategy for some teams, and we could sit around all day discussing the merits of fielding a deep, lights-out pitching staff vs. a gorilla-ball offensive lineup. If there's enough interest, I'd like to see some discussion of these aspects of the game within he Expats community.
The 2013 season kicks off on Feb. 15, with a visit from the Western Illinois Leathernecks. This should be a great season for the Diamond Hogs.