State of the Hogs: Road Trip

The day started with a fly rod in my hand, but before it was done the highlight was a bunch of plastic spoons and a big time with a daughter as we watched the Razorbacks bring home another regional title from Oklahoma.

I generally would have covered the Stillwater baseball regional. But because of such a small press box, seats were limited. Matt Jones and Andrew Hutchinson both wanted to go. If I had gone, it would have knocked one of them out of the press box and the trip. So I stayed home.

But it got too much for me as the weekend progressed. Matt and Andrew were doing a great job, I just wanted to be there.

I had gone on a fishing trip to the Norfork River with Louis Campbell. On Sunday morning, I was standing in the middle of the Norfork River by 6 a.m. I had been getting texts from daughter Sarah wanting to go to Stillwater and asking if I could get tickets. I had none and feared the worst Sunday night if OSU advanced. I told her it just didn't look good for that trip.

Then, I got a text from Jean Ann, my wife. She didn't tell me to go, but the text read, "You have a daughter who REALLY wants to go."

I knew what that meant. Just then, I made a false cast with my new Scott Radian rod and the tip section snapped. I was going to have to walk 1,000 yards back to the truck, get a new rod and then trek back up the river to our spot. I figured that was a sign that I needed to be in the truck heading for Stillwater, with a stop in Fayetteville for Sarah, one of the most diehard Arkansas baseball fans I know.

The trick was going to be finding tickets in the process, but that's what I decided to do at 10:30 a.m. Sunday while reeling in my line on a gravel bar on a trout stream six hours away from Stillwater.

I began to text my best sources for tickets as I walked down the river towards the truck. And, I began to get responses. Finally, Razorback fan Carl Connor texted back, "I have you covered. Jim Eden has mine. He'll call you."

And, between those two great members of the Road Hogs, both living in Oklahoma, there was great news that Sarah and I had tickets. There were others that came through, too, as I rolled over the hills across north Arkansas. And even more who offered tickets outside the stadium.

Sarah continued with her regular Sunday morning plans, attended church and got her dog over to our house. I made it to Fayetteville about 1 p.m., showered and changed out of my fishing stuff. And, Sarah and I were on the road around 2 p.m.

She reminded me that this was exactly the way we did it in 2009 for a trip to Norman to play the Sooners in a regional that eventually took the Hogs to the College World Series. That trip came together as I was mourning the loss of my dog Charlie Brown two days earlier. Sarah thought it would be good therapy. Little did we know that Drew Smyly would come close to no-hitting the home team in a blowout victory that allowed us to taunt Sooner fans in their stadium. And, that's always fun.

We wondered aloud if the Hogs had a Drew Smyly ready for this close-out victory, likely against another home team, Oklahoma State. No, the conclusion was that projected starter Jackson Lowery is no Drew Smyly. Well, he didn't do badly. He was perfect through three innings and provided the Hogs a career-best outing.

There were no OSU fans to taunt, though. We learned going through Siloam Springs that the Cowboys had lost to St. John's. Our ticket worries seemed like ancient thoughts at that point. It was going to be Baum Stadium West.

We rolled into Stillwater at 5 p.m., found Jim Eden and secured tickets, right in front of the ESPN booth in the best section in Allie Reynolds Stadium. On the way in, Jim White from Rogers gave us more tickets. They were good, too, but not as good as what the Connors had bought and couldn't use because Holly was rehabbing from successful surgery.

As we walked from the parking lot, Sarah reminded me of the last time we'd been in Stillwater together. She was playing soccer against the Big Eight Champs for the Northeastern State University Lade Reds. The irony is that St. John's, the foe in the baseball game, had been the Redmen, just like NSU, before the NCAA mandated an end to Native American nicknames. NSU is River Hawks and St. John's is now the Red Storm.

Just before entering the stadium, we met Kent Atkins, owner of The Grease Pig in Fayetteville. He had his big spoon. He told Sarah and I that it wouldn't make it in to the stadium for the second straight night, but he was going to give security a test before taking it back to the car. Sure enough, he pushed the envelope just a little and was treated with a visit from one of Stillwater's finest.

"You just aren't going to get it in," the police man said. "You got it in Friday, but we weren't really paying attention. It shouldn't have happened then. There's no stadium security outfit in America that's going to let that in."

Not so, Kent replied.

"I've had it in every stadium in the SEC, all across the south and at the SEC tournament," he said. "Only trouble I ever had was at Ole Miss last year. Everyone else understands it's all in fun."

Well, there wasn't so much fun Saturday night amongst the OSU fans. They did not like the way the Hog faithful roared when OSU's ace pitcher wilted down the stretch. The Hogs sailed past, signalling king of the regional status for Arkansas. The OSU fans were responding to the plastic forks distributed by Atkins with four fingers up and yells of "fork 'em." That's not nice to hear from grandmothers and teenagers. And, there was some of that.

It got ugly at one point, as detailed by Caroline DeBriyn, the wife of former UA coach Norm DeBriyn.

"I was in the middle of it and I just covered my head and asked the OSU people to please stop," she said. "I couldn't believe it."

Of course, there were only about one dozen OSU folks left by Sunday night. They sat quietly and watched Arkansas put down a St. John's rally and score in the ninth to move on to the Super Regional.

It will likely be at Baum Stadium, an actual real college baseball stadium, not a pile of old metal bleachers like they have in Stillwater. Allie Reynolds is ready for the junk pile. There's nothing shiny like the beautiful spoon Atkins raised behind the right field stands after Tyler's homer in the sixth.

When Atkins returned to his seat in the seventh, I suggested another trick. How about running behind the outfield wall with the spoon bobbing up and down?

"Oh, good idea," he said, huffing and puffing from just his hike around to right field. "But maybe that will have to be for another day. What about you?"

I begged off. I was tired, too. Remember, a few hours earlier, there were no thoughts of spoons, only a broken fly rod, the starting point for a great day.

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