Inaugural Diamond Hog Update

On the basis of a somewhat pointed suggestion from John Expat, I'm going to start leaving regular updates on the status of the Diamond Hogs.  Yes, I know, college baseball isn't a "major" sport that garners regular attention from ESPN and can sometimes be as boring as week-old, store-bought apple pie, but the Arkansas baseball program has a strong pedigree and is regularly competitive for a national title.  The least all good Hog fans can do is be aware of how the Hogs are doing on the diamond, and that's where I step in.  If you're close enough to Fayetteville to make a day trip, I encourage you to go check out the Hogs at Baum Stadium one weekend.  Tickets are cheap, so it's great for a family trip or just a day out with the kids.  And, if you're so inclined, you can bring adult beverages (beer only) into the Hog Pen behind left field.

For those of you who need a primer, the Diamond Hogs have 22 NCAA Tourney appearance to their name, along with 6 appearances in the College World Series (5 in the last 15 years).  The '79 Diamond Hogs came within 2 runs of being National Champions, and the 2009 squad had a fantastic season, finishing third at the CWS, posting numerous come-from-behind, ninth- and extra-inning victories, and sweeping #1 Arizona St. during the regular season, as well as upsetting #2 national seed Cal State-Fullerton in the first game of the CWS.  Despite their post-season success, the Hogs have only won 4 conference titles (2 SEC, 2 SWC), which is a testament to the competitive nature of SEC Baseball.

The club is currently coached by Dave van Horn, an Arkansas alum.  Van Horn was previously the head coach at Nebraska, where he brought the Cornhuskers to national prominence and won Big XII and National Coach of the Year honors in 2001.  When legendary coach Norm Debriyn (think John McDonnell, with fewer NCs) retired at the end of 2002, after spending his entire 33 year career with Hogs, van Horn jumped at the chance to coach the Razorbacks.  I think we can all agree, in light of some of our recent coaching situations (See: Dana Altman), that the opportunity to get someone who loves the University like Coach van Horn is a rarity.

One of the best things about Arkansas Baseball is the atmosphere.  The baseball facilities, like all of Arkansas' sports facilities, are top notch.  Baum Stadium (at George Cole Field, for the purists), which has been called the "palace of college baseball stadiums", was rated the best stadium in the country by Rivals in 2008.  Fan support is also quite strong, with Arkansas Baseball attendance ranking in the top 2 in the nation for the past 5 seasons, including first in 2007.  Arkansas was the first school to average 8,000 fans/game and several games have brought more than 10,000+ fans.  That's more than some SEC basketball programs can say.  Also, Arkansas Baseball is one of only 3 SEC teams to actually turn a profit.  That is, the baseball team is a "money generating sport" and doesn't sponge off the financial successes of football and basketball.

The team is currently 6-1, leading into a 3 game series with the Cal Golden Bears this weekend.  They took the opening series from Ball State 2-1, swept Troy last weekend, and toppled Kansas on Tuesday, out-scoring their opponents 63-28 in the process.  Notable players include (and this is definitely not all-inclusive):  Andy Wilkins (1B, leads team in RBIs, rated as the 3rd best 1B in the country), Zach Cox (3B, Freshman All-American in 2009, 3rd best 3B in the country), and Brett Eibner (OF/RHP, Freshman All-American in 2008, 2-0 on the mound).  Also, Coach van Horn is rated at the 9th best coach in the country, per Rivals' Power Rankings.

The Hogs are currently ranked 15th by Rivals.  There's some ambiguity in the college baseball polls; there are several polls that are all about equally well-regarded.  Kendall Rogers at Rivals (who does a fantastic job with Rivals' college baseball coverage) has one, and Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball also have polls.  USA Today/ESPN publish a Coaches' Poll.  This has led to some "interesting" matchups, such as the first ever #1 vs. #1 last year, the aforementioned sweep of Arizona St.

So, that should get everybody (everybody who cares, at least) up to speed.  I'm going to try to update early in the week after each weekend series.  The mid-week matchups have some notable games, such as last Tuesday's whallopping of #25 Kansas, Oklahoma, and Oral Roberts, but nothing nearly as exciting as Arizona St.'s visit to Fayetteville last season, so I'll probably just lump the mid-week results in with weekend series update.  That being said, I hope these posts are informative and drum up some interest and support for the Diamond Hogs.  Woo Pig Sooie!