Arkansas’ football game against UT Martin also served as a homecoming for one of the Razorbacks’ best baseball players in recent memory.
Andrew Benintendi, who is coming off his first professional season, was honored during the first quarter of the game with his Golden Spikes Award.
“To see the names of the players who have won this award, for my name to be up there with those guys, it’s really humbling,” Benintendi said in a press conference before the game. “I’m very honored and I’m very proud to be a Razorback.”
The center fielder had one of the best seasons in SEC history in 2015, leading the conference in batting average (.376) and home runs (20).
The Boston Red Sox drafted him seventh overall and he spent time in Single-A Short-Season Lowell and Single-A Greenville, batting .313 with 11 home runs in 54 games.
“I think it went pretty well,” Benintendi said. “I learned a lot. Obviously it’s a lot of games and you have to manage your time really well. I met a lot of great guys and it was a good experience.”
Some players struggle when transitioning from the aluminum bats used in college to the wooden bats in pro ball, but Benintendi made it look easy.
After starting the season slow, going 5 for 27 in his first eight games, Benintendi heated up.
“Making that transition was tough at first, but I actually like wood bats better than metal,” Benintendi said. “I played summer ball with wood bats for three summers with the Midland Redskins, so I am somewhat familiar with it.”
Of course, playing in the Southeastern Conference also helped. He said his time in Fayetteville under Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn and hitting coach Tony Vitello were extremely beneficial to his development.
“They run everything very professionally,” Benintendi said. “They gave me the insight that I need. It’s been a pleasure to play for them.”
The trip to Fayetteville has been a short one and he leaves for Cincinnati – his hometown and where he’ll spend his offseason – Sunday, but Benintendi enjoyed being back where he helped the Razorbacks clinch a spot in the College World Series.
“It’s been great, just seeing old friends, catching up with coaches,” Benintendi said. “I’ve been hanging out at the field a little bit. It’s been a couple months, but it seems a lot longer with everything that’s been going on.
“It’s definitely been a good time down here.”