State of the Hogs: Electricity

A starting pitching can quiet the home crowd, but Missouri State's Matt Hall may have his hands full with the Baum Stadium faithful.

Dave Van Horn thinks it will be an electric atmosphere when Arkansas plays host to Missouri State at a soldout Baum Stadium beginning Friday in the NCAA Super Regional.

It can be debated about how much of an effect a home crowd can have on a baseball game, but Arkansas fans got some bulletin board material from Missouri State pitcher Matt Hall in the media sessions Thursday. Hall doesn't think playing at Baum and perhaps 12,000 Arkansas fans will have a bearing on the outcome.

"You still have to go out between the lines and it's just baseball then," Hall said. "We'll have our fans, too."

Indeed, the Bears will have a few tickets. The NCAA gave the Springfield, Mo., school 600 to distribute to their fans.

It goes back to what Florida State coach Mike Martin told me after his team lost a Super Regional in 2004. He called Baum one of the great atmospheres in all of college baseball and said the Razorbacks "are tough to beat in that setting."

Hall's words sparked a fire storm among Arkansas baseball fans, kind of like, "We will show him how loud we can get." And, they will.

It won't be like anything the Bears have seen this year. There are home field advantages in the Missouri Valley Conference, but not like this. In fact, Arkansas fans turned Stillwater into a home field last weekend in the regional with national TV personalities calling it Baum West.

It's just going to be straight out Baum this time. Extra bleachers were being rolled into the Hog Pen as both teams practiced Thursday. There was even talk about how fans could have filled the seats that have been proposed for right field in master plans. Could this Super Regional have a role in making that happen sooner than later?

"It could," Van Horn said. "But there are other things going on with our campus right now. We got the indoor workout area, there is a student academic center about to open and there is a new basketball practice facility. That is something that could happen down the road."

The idea is to build more suites beyond right field with a walk through behind the batter's eye in center field to give fans the ability to circle the stadium. Right now the only thing behind the wall in center and right is Lake Norm, the over flow pond for drainage from the field affectionately named after former coach Norm DeBryin.

DeBriyn was in the press box Thursday afternoon to handle some radio duties. He said he's been covered up with phone requests in his role as a Vice President at the Razorback Foundation. He praised Van Horn and told stories about the way he was as a player and young coach.

"What I can tell you is that he has the ability to focus on the game and tune out distractions," DeBriyn said. "He was able to do that as a player and a young coach. He wanted to be the one to make the big play in big games. He wanted the ball to be hit to him and he gobbled it up.

"As a coach, he can make the hard decisions. And, he's good with players. They know where they stand with him. He's a great recruiter. He can evaluate.

"I remember taking him on the road as a graduate assistant. There was a player there that I knew about after talking to a scout, but I didn't tell Dave. After we were done, I asked him who he thought was the top player there. He nailed it. I knew to be watching for this player. He didn't."

Van Horn knows fans are going to pack the stadium. He said the last Super Regional "was electric" and he expects the same. The key is for players to stay loose and focused. He said earlier in the week that the "pressure was off" after the Hogs made the regional. That's Van Horn, the master psychologist.

"Dave is very good at managing the moment," DeBriyn said. "He's always had that. Players are confident in him."

DeBriyn recalls a confrontation Van Horn had as a player with a top prospect.

"We had a guy who had been drafted in the second round and we got him to school," DeBriyn said. "Dave might be 5-9 and certainly not 5-10. This guy was every bit of 6-4. We'd had two practices and the guy was late to stretch for both of them. I hadn't said anything."

Van Horn did the talking for his coach.

"Dave got up from stretching," DeBriyn said. "He went over to him and said, 'I'm here to win. Don't ever be late again.' It was awesome."

That's what it will be when the first pitch is thrown at 3:30 p.m. Friday. It may be better when the first pitch is thrown at 1 p.m. Saturday. And, it's just going to keep getting louder. If Arkansas fans needed any encouragement, Matt Hall gave it to them Thursday.

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