State of the Hogs: Happy Days

Joe Serrano plans to enjoy what could be final weekend in Baum Stadium, but has some walking to do for some special fun.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn has been preaching to Joe Serrano for four years, always take your walks.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that Serrano will do some walking Saturday afternoon before the middle game in a big series against Tennessee at Baum Stadium.

Game times are 6:35 p.m. Friday, then 6:05 p.m. Saturday, then noon for the finale on Sunday.

Graduations are split on the weekend, but Serrano's recreation and education program will hold it's graduation at a good time for him to walk.

"I think we're walking at 3 o'clock at Barnhill and hopefully we should be out of there by 4 or 4:15," he said. "That's what they've been telling us. We're both going to be there and we're going to be walking."

There were questions about maybe Serrano should wear his baseball uniform under his cap and gown for a quick exit to batting practice. He said that's not the plan. He'll dress up, then change afterwards.

It's clear he's proud of the accomplishment.

"I'm just so happy to be graduating from such a prestigious university," he said.

He's also pleased to be ahead of teammate Tyler Spoon, also walking this weekend. Serrano said he was excited when he found out the list is sorted alphabetically and he will have his name called before his fellow outfielder.

"I'm pretty sure I'm going to walk first, so I'll have that on him," Serrano laughed. "We both came in here as freshmen. Obviously I got to play a little bit, and he redshirted. But he came back his next year and had a lights out year for us.

"I believe he was a freshman All-American. I mean, he's just had a great career here. We've both had really good times. I look at that guy, and I'm just proud of his accomplishments. I see him as a great friend and someone I'm always going to be in touch with. I'm just glad I've gotten to play with him.

"Me and him, we're the last of our class that are here. It just shows we had the endurance to stick it out and fight to the very end. I wish him the best of luck and I hope he has many successes in his life."

Serrano has had a blast this season as the Hogs have fought back from a 12-13 start, including 1-5 in the SEC. They are ranked 20th with a 14-10 SEC record ahead of the Tennessee series. And, he remembers playing with the likes of James McCann, now with the Detroit Tigers.

"I'm glad to be a part of this team and I'm glad to see some of the guys I've played with grow up to be pretty good baseball players in the Bigs," he said. "It's an awesome feeling to see guys develop. I wish everybody the best."

Taking your walks has long been something Serrano was willing to do. But he's trying to swing at pitches early in the count because he's seeing more fast ball strikes hitting just in front of Andrew Benintendi, the nation's hottest hitter.

“I am not going to swing at bad pitches,” he said. “But if it’s a mistake breaker first, then I’m going to hit it. And if it’s a fast ball down the middle, I’m going to go after it. The attitude I have now, don’t let a good pitch go. I’m not taking. I changed my approach.

“I’m definitely hitting at my best right now. The new ball helps. And, being with a good group helps.”

Serrano hates to see it end. He could get a chance in pro ball, something that seemed like a sure thing when he was drafted in the 10th round out of high school. There was never a chance that he was going to skip the college experience.

“I wanted to get a degree,” he said. “And I loved Arkansas.”

It’s an old love affair. His father owns a chain of Supercut hair salons, some in Northwest Arkansas. He picked up a camp brochure when he was in Northwest Arkansas on business.

“I just loved it here,” he said. “I was taking other visits, but Arkansas was high on my list all the time. I came in here and worked out for Coach Van Horn and Coach (Todd) Butler. They gave me some things to work on and told me they’d keep an eye on me.

“They came to see me at the Area Code games. And, that’s when I set up a visit. I had taken unofficial visit to San Diego State because we were vacationing there. I took an unofficial to Arizona State. Then there were official visits to Kansas and New Mexico. That was all before Arkansas. After I came here, it was over.”

Well, it took a scholarship offer before it was over.

“I loved it here,” Serrano said. “I told DVH that I needed the minimum amount. Just something. Just anything and I was coming.”

DVH? Yup, that’s what Serrano calls his head coach.

“I just give everyone nicknames,” he said. “That draws everyone closer.”

Not too many address the head coach by anything but Coach Van Horn.

“I got nicknames for everyone,” he said, noting that volunteer coach Christian Kowalchuk “is just Chuck.”

Serrano admits that he doesn’t have the guts to give pitching coach Dave Jorn a nickname.

“It’s just Coach Jorn,” he said. “It will always be Coach Jorn.”

Van Horn laughed about that tidbit.

“That’s probably good,” Van Horn said. “But I’m glad he calls me DVH. I’ve heard him say it alot. I will say that Joe is a little different. Really, though, I don’t mind. If you’ve been here two or three years, you’ve probably earned the right to say that. I think it speaks to our relationship when an older player says DVH.”

Serrano likes to think of himself in the Van Horn mold. He came here to play second base, like Van Horn.

“I was a shortstop and second baseman in high school,” Serrano said. “But when I got here, they had Tim Carver and Bo Bigham. I wasn’t going to beat them out, so it was left field. I didn’t care. I wanted to play.”

Van Horn said, “Joe had a little issues with his arm. But he can play second. We put him there earlier this year. He can really field it.”

The recruiting part of it is interesting.

“I think he really recruited us,” Van Horn said. “He just wanted a little bit of a scholarship. We had to wait to see how the numbers were going to work out, but he deserved something.

“We always knew he could hit. His first year, he was held back by a hamstring issue. But once he got in the lineup, he stayed. He hit over .300 after he was a starter as a freshman.”

Serrano likes to think of himself as a “dirt bag type,” an effort guy. Van Horn said that’s fair.

“He plays hard,” Van Horn said. “He’s been steady and nothing intimidates him. He got that triple at A&M off their closer, a guy who throws 94-95. That doesn’t scare Joe.

“I think we are going to get to play awhile (in postseason) and Joe is one of the big keys. If he continues to play like this, we will play awhile.”

Van Horn loves his personality.

“And, he does have a bit of a personality,” Van Horn said. “Some of the young guys tell us that it takes awhile to get to know him. They’ll say, ‘Joe isn’t friendly.’ Well, it just takes a little while. Then they come back and say, ‘Joe is really friendly.’ I think that he’s a straight shooter, someone who tells it exactly the way it is.”

That’s the truth. And, he’s got a little salesman in him. He’s had that for a long time.

“I thought of my self as an entrepreneur as a kid,” Serrano said. “We lived on the third hole at Starr Pass Golf Club. Me and a buddy, when we were about 8-year-olds would find golf balls and we’d sell them back on the course.”

It went well enough that they re-invested in their business.

“We went to Sports Authority and bought ball retrievers,” he said. “People would leave their balls if they were under the cactus. You didn’t want to reach in there for them.”

They earned a reputation with the golf shop as competition.

“We were selling the golfers Pro VIs for $2,” he said, “and the others for a little less. The golf shop guys came looking for us. Well, we didn’t get caught because we recognized their carts. We could get away.”

The ball retrievers helped when there were rattlesnakes nearby.

“Oh, you really don’t have to worry too much about them,” he said. “They let you know (with their rattles) when they are going to strike. It’s not the big ones you have to worry about, it’s the little ones. They can bite and they don’t know how to control their venom. They just hold on and pump it all into you. The big ones strike and let go.”

Joe Serrano can bite and it’s deadly. Ask Texas A&M.

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