There are a thousand different words that can be used to describe the feelings of the Arkansas fanbase in the last two days. Some are angry, claiming the entire season is a wash because of the way that it ended. Others are heartbroken, as a team that has begged the baseball gods for the first national title in school history saw that dream slip away yet again. But after the baseball landed in the glove of the North Carolina State first baseman, life itself seemed to go in the way that this article started.
The 2021 season was one for the history books. Week in and week out, Dave Van Horn led his team to victory, and it seemed inevitable that the Razorbacks would be booking hotels in Nebraska again for the third straight year. From the first pitch of the season against Texas Tech to hoisting the SEC Championship trophy in Hoover, the wins just never seemed to stop.
Until they did.
Paul Auster once said, “Baseball is a universe as large as life itself, and therefore all things in life, whether good or bad, whether tragic or comic, fall within its domain.”
People love an underdog story. In fact, in other sports, it seems as though Arkansas teams thrive as the underdog. Those storylines look great until you’re not the underdog, and every single game of this 2021 season, Arkansas was never the underdog. Still, they found a way to break that narrative and win.
There were times the team struggled, sure. A 16-1 blowout against Alabama early in the year had some fans wondering if there were real problems in the dugout. Tennesee walking off on a three-run home run on Jaxon Wiggins to force a rubber match. The bats going cold against Nebraska in the first round. However, in every single instance, the good guys were able to pull through.
There was the three-run jack by Charlie Welch to put us in the Super Regionals. The quirky walk-off in the tenth inning against Southeast Missouri State. Not to be outdone, there were countless performances from the likely Golden Spikes winner, Kevin Kopps.
Therein lies the cruelty of baseball. The baseball gods give, and they take away all the same. Some may ask how a team can put up 21 runs in one game, while barely pushing across seven in the next two games combined. The reality is that sometimes the ball goes where you want it to, and other times it goes exactly where you don’t.
There is a small fraction of the Razorback fan base that call this a curse on the Razorbacks. They seem to love the phrase “Hogs gonna hog”. However, this struggle is not exclusive to Fayetteville. Teams everywhere, at every level of the sport, find themselves at the top, only to fail before a championship is won.
Take the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers, for example. All year, they sat at the top of Major League Baseball. They finished the season 104-58, a franchise record. But they found themselves losing in the World Series to the Houston Astros. It would take another three seasons before they finally pushed through and won a World Series title, their first since 1988.
When one looks at the Dodgers, a resemblance to the Razorbacks can be seen. A program desperate for a title. Year after year they come inches away, and year after year they come up short. Sure, the Dodgers fan base has some championships to look back on. But for younger Dodgers fans, 1988 feels like centuries ago. And since 1988, they have been knocking on the door of greatness.
After last night's game, it is easy to melt down. It’s easy to want to burn the entire program to the ground. The heartbreak can sometimes be too much to bear. Every year, Razorback faithful come knocking at the door of perennial greatness. Every year, they fall short.
But take heart in this: someday, the knocking is going to pay off. It didn’t pay off this season, and it may not pay off next season, but eventually, when you knock long enough, the door opens. And the day that it does, the city of Fayetteville will explode with the energy of a fan base that has waited their entire lives for that moment. Statues will be carved. Stories will be written. There will be rejoicing down Dickson street. People will speak of the greatness of that championship team for years to come.
When that day comes, the cruelty of baseball will be on full display. Not because of the grueling torture that the game often displays, but because of the intrinsic beauty of this sport. The cruelty of baseball is not that a team falters. It’s not when a batter hits a slump at the worst time. It’s much more than that. It’s a team mired by failure, finally lifting that coveted trophy in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s that even when a batter falters three out of ten times, they are considered successful.
Today, Razorback nation is heartbroken. Time does heal all wounds, and when September rolls around we will see the same heartbroken fans clamoring for more success in a different sport.
Until that day, Arkansas fans will pine away for a championship. As for now, many are feeling the same way that this article started.