State of the Hogs: Father's Day

Ryne Stanek has a tough critic, but he'll enjoy a special dinner with his former coach the night before he takes on defending champ South Carolina in Omaha.

OMAHA, Neb. -- It's Father's Day at the College World Series. For some of the Arkansas baseball team, it's a great day. Some didn't even see it coming and were glad for the reminder after the Hogs beat Kent State, 8-1, on Saturday afternoon.

And for one, it wasn't something he wanted to talk about. It's just too tough.

Tim Carver is about the toughest of Razorbacks, but Father's Day is still a little difficult for him to discuss. He politely declined in the locker room Saturday afternoon and accepted a hug from the reporter who just said, "Tim, can I ask you a tough question?"

Carver knew what the question would be and knew what was coming the next day, Father's Day. He lost his father to a heart attack 18 months ago on Christmas Eve. Those who knew Carver, understood a tough season last year. They celebrate the Fayetteville shortstop's brilliant senior season.

"I didn't even know it was Father's Day until someone brought it up just a few seconds ago," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "It generally falls sometime during the CWS. But I have to be honest and say I didn't realize it. Just been focused in on the games.

"I have known Tim pretty well for a long time and I was close to his father because we were around Tim growing up in Fayetteville at camps and seeing him play at the high school. So I had many, many conversations with his father. They were honest and good conversations because we were recruiting Tim. We had a great relationship and I knew their relationship pretty well.

"So having said that, you have to believe me that I will make sure to have a conversation about Tim's father with him tomorrow. I know how proud he would be of what he's done and how he's playing. Everyone on this team loves Tim and we will take care of him tomorrow. We all will. I know it's still hard on him and will be a tough day for him."

Van Horn said being at the CWS with at least part of his family will make the day special Sunday. His wife and oldest daughter Hollan have been with him for the last few days. Hollan, who just graduated from Shiloh Christian Academy, has been with Van Horn throughout the NCAA tournament.

"(Wife) Karen has just sent Hollan but she's here for this one," Van Horn said. "So Hollan and I have had a special two weeks on the road. We won't have Mariel with us. She's in junior high and they have things they like to do. So she's at Camp Kanakuk this week having a great time like 14-year-olds do.

"But I don't know how this can be a better Father's Day for us. When you win your first game at the College World Series and then it's Father's Day next -- that's pretty good."

Ryne Stanek said about the same thing. He's the sophomore pitcher who will start against defending champ South Carolina in game two at 8 p.m. Monday night. Stanek, 6-4 righthander, may be the top pro prospect on the Arkansas team. The radar gun gets his fast ball from 95 to 97 and he's got a darting breaker for a dynamite combination.

"It will be pretty cool," he said. "My father's here and we will have a big family dinner tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to it."

Mark Stanek is a little more than a father to Ryne. He's been his baseball coach for T-ball to summer league ball before he came to Arkansas.

"He coached me every step of the way," Stanek said. "I mean every team, every league. He still thinks he can coach me some.

"He called me after the Rice regional with a couple of suggestions. I thought I pitched alright. But he saw two things. I had to tell him, 'Dad, sometimes you aren't perfect. How about letting those two things go and how about letting my coach handle it.'

"He started laughing and said fine. I told him that I had made it further in baseball than he did and it was time to let it go. He laughed at that, too. But he can't help it."

The Rice victory was Stanek's first in over one month. Since the family wasn't there for that game, there was a decision to skip the next weekend, too, at Baylor. When Stanek got a no decision there, the family made the short trip to Omaha from Kansas City.

Stanek is excited about the matchup Monday. He is still wincing about letting the Gamecocks off the hook when the Hogs jumped on Michael Roth for six runs early in a loss at Fayetteville. Stanek's back stiffened and he tried to pitch when he should have given the coaches a heads-up and gone to the bench.

There was a special focus in his last bullpen at Omaha on Friday afternoon. He said his location and "stuff" was superb.

"I had everything down and in the right place," Stanek said. "I've been trying to fine tune my mechanics and I felt pretty good with how it was working in that bullpen."

Dave Jorn, the veteran Arkansas pitching coach, said it was an excellent bullpen session. But reminded that there are some All-Americans in bullpen that aren't so good when the lights come on.

"Bullpens are just that, bullpens," said Jorn, perhaps tougher to please than Mark Stanek. "He did look good. But he has to take that to the game now.

"Stanek has a lot of power, a tremendous electric arm and great stuff. But what happens with him is that he gets too excited. He over throws.

"It's like he's gone to the county fair and he's trying to light up the numbers to win a teddy bear. We don't need any teddy bears.

"We want him to stay within himself and pitch and not go for the teddy bear. I didn't see anything on the scoreboard with the radar gun numbers like there are in some parks. That's good. Stanek doesn't need that to check. I hate those things. I don't want them turning around to see if they won the teddy bear."

Third baseman Matt Reynolds is another who played a lot of ball for his father, Gary Reynolds. His dad coached him in baseball and basketball.

"I owe a lot to my dad," Reynolds said. "I wouldn't be doing this today without what he did for me. I know he helped me as far as he could and then he hired coaches for private lessons. That was in basketball and baseball."

Reynolds was a standout point guard at Tulsa, Okla., Bishop Kelley High School. As a sophomore, he was getting attention from Kentucky basketball coaches until they figured out that his summers were going to be with baseball travel leagues and not AAU hoops.

"I think the thing I remember the most growing up was hitting against my dad's pitching in the garage -- with whiffle balls," Reynolds said. "We'd be out there for hours. You know those whiffle balls with holes on just one side. You can make them break any direction, dip and dive. That's how you learn to hit the breaking ball.

"I loved those games. They were so much fun. He'd throw me every kind of pitch you can imagine -- slurves, curves, sliders, cutters.

"My dad's here so it's going to be a great family dinner for Father's Day on Sunday night. It should be pretty neat to have it here at the College World Series."

Reynolds didn't have a "neat" first game at Omaha. He hit into three double plays, but sparkled in the field. He was unfazed afterwards. He quoted hitting coach Todd Butler

"Butler said the key in Omaha is good pitching, defense and timely hitting," Reynolds said. "I think we pretty much got all three today. I didn't swing the bat too well, but I didn't take that to the field.

"I thought our pitches were amazing. DJ Baxendale pounded the zone and was at his best. He had a lot of movement on his pitches and so did Brandon Moore. Same thing. We were excited to play defense behind them with the way they pitched. We were on our toes looking forward to making plays."

They'll be amped for the Monday night test against South Carolina. But first, there's going to be a nice dinner Sunday night.

Ryne Stanek loosens up in Sunday's workout.

Tim Carver makes a play against Kent State.

Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated

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