Noisy Grid Fans
So much has been said and written about expectations for this football team. After letting a huge scalp slip away last week against No. 1 Alabama, tight end D. J. Williams wants fans to know this season is far from over.
"I hope our fans get over what happened," Williams said after a practice this week. "From listening to everybody the last few days, I think there are a lot who think our expectations are done with now after the loss to Alabama. They are not.
"We aren't done. We think we can achieve a lot of our goals still. I think the fans were awesome at the game, maybe too awesome at times. And I hope that doesn't go away now.
"We want our fans to stick with us. We want them to still believe there is a lot left in this season."
Williams was ready to get back to the practice field after two days off. Does he love practice that much?
"Well, it's probably good to have two days off, but it's pretty tough to sit around listening to the media and all the fans still talking about what happened," Williams said. "I think it's time to put it behind us and move forward.
"We put our whole hearts into that game. It was tough listening to all of that. We need that gone from the system."
As far as noise, Williams thought Reynolds Razorback Stadium was at a fever pitch.
"It hasn't been that loud before," he said. "The place just exploded. We have great fans. I do want them to know that we need them quiet, though, when we have the ball. We have checks to make and we need to be able to hear each other."
Football is the main topic on campus, but that's not all that is going on with the Arkansas athletic department. The baseball team is two weeks into fall practice. Normally, I'd write that baseballs are flying out of Baum Stadium and the bikers in town for the blues festival need to keep their helmets on tight. That won't be a problem.
The NCAA has reduced the pop in the aluminum bats for the second time in three years. This time they really accomplished their goal of limiting the exit speed on balls coming off bats. There aren't going to be as many home runs at Baum, or even in some of the smaller parks around the SEC.
"Normally, in batting practice, we hit about 40 home runs," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "This fall, with these new bats, we are averaging about 10 home runs a day in batting practice. In talking to other coaches around the country, it's the same everywhere. The consensus is that there is a significant difference in the bats."
The good news is that the UA staff saw it coming. Coaches began to recruit for speed and defense more than power two years ago when word filtered out of the competition committee that the slower bat speeds were on the way.
Arkansas lost most of its pop from last year when they eclipsed the school record for home runs. Gone are Brett Eibner, Andy Wilkins and Zack Cox.
"I think there are a lot of people who think we are going to be down," Van Horn said. "But we are still going to get after people. We'll be fine. I think we'll put a fine team on the field."
Returning captain James McCann isn't nervous.
"We can pitch," the junior catcher said. "We can play defense and we can run. We need to make things happen with the running game because of the bats. We'll need to play more small ball than wait around for home runs. I think we are going to be alright."
The Hogs have some injuries. Matt Vinson hurt his shoulder on a head first slide and might be done for the fall. Pitcher Cade Lynch, a late signee, has recurring headaches. Pitcher Sam Harvill, another talented newcomer, has a sore arm.
You'd think a millionaire could find better digs than sleeping on the couch in a small Fayetteville apartment, but it was just fine for Zack Cox the last month.
Cox was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and signed a big contract in late August. He spent a couple of weeks with one of the Cards' Class A teams before heading back to Fayetteville for one month off.
With DJ Baxendale taking Cox' old bed room in the apartment shared last year with James McCann, Cox just slept in the living room.
"He left this weekend after a month here," McCann said. "He could have gone any place to work out the last month, but he wanted to be here with us. We were glad to have him.
"We didn't charge him any rent. I will say that when we went out to dinner, we let him pay a few times."
McCann made sure the freshmen on the squad studied the Cox work ethic and technique in the days when he got into the hitting cage.
"I told some of our new guys that didn't know him, he's quiet but you can go up to him and ask him anything," McCann said. "I made sure they knew Zack would help them. And if you don't feel you can approach him, just watch him. That's the way you work. That's how you do things. Soak it in. No one is better."
McCann and Van Horn like some of the new arms on the Arkansas baseball team. And some of the veterans have impressed, too, according to pitching coach Dave Jorn.
"DJ Baxendale and Geoffrey Davenport will have to carry us," Jorn said. "They've done really well. Both of them have improved."
Van Horn said Davenport has improved his fast ball. The radar gun has him at 90 mph consistently on his fast ball. And his breaker has gotten better.
McCann said he watched Baxendale get better all summer in the Cape Cod league where both played in July and August.
"What I saw DJ do is get his arm slot consistent," McCann said. "He was the closer for his team this summer. His off speed pitches got better and he's got better command of his cutter. He can make that cutter move to either corner and his slider is better.
"He had a great last outing against Arizona State in the NCAA tournament and that's the way he pitched all summer."
Van Horn said lefty pitcher Randall Fant had a good summer and has improved this fall.
"He's got that great changeup and good velocity, but he didn't have command of his fast ball last year," Van Horn said. "He's better. He's learning. He found out you couldn't throw that fast ball right down the middle. They will hit it in this league. He's down in the zone and he's better. He has worked on some things in his mechanics and he's going the right direction."
Then there's freshman pitcher Ryne Stanek, 6-4 righthander from Overland Park, Kan. Both Van Horn and McCann said Stanek's arm is "electric." Van Horn said he's consistently hitting 94 on the gun.
"He's just a little rusty," Van Horn said. "He'll get it up there faster than that. He threw 97 in the spring. But when he was drafted so high, they shut him down. He was just waiting around all summer to see what would happen."
Of course, what happened is Stanek came to school. And now he can get back to throwing.
"He does have that electric arm and he's got a good breaker, too," Van Horn said. "He will make a mistake now and then and see that the mistakes get hit. But he's coming along fine."
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