J.T. Wampler, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Family Tradition: Diamond Hogs have plenty of brotherly love

Unknown to him at the time, Parker Sanburn went on his first recruiting trip at the age of 13.

Unknown to him at the time, Parker Sanburn went on his first recruiting trip at the age of 13.

His 16-year-old older brother Nolan was playing in a tournament in Rogers about 20 miles up the road from the University of Arkansas campus. The entire Sanburn family had made the 11 1/2-hour trip from Kokomo, Indiana, and all made the trip south to Baum Stadium.

The Sanburns made contact that day with Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, who showed them around the facilities on a visit that lead to a two-for-one deal.

“I was walking around with them and who would have known that seven years later I’d be here competing,” Parker Sanburn said. “It’s weird how it all works. It planted a seed in my head and I thought this was the coolest place ever.”

As the seasons change, names have a tendency to stay the same at Baum Stadium. While some teams talk about family, the Razorbacks quite literally embody the term.

Three members on this year’s team - Parker Sanburn, Ryan Fant and Michael McCann - are following in their older brothers’ footsteps by attending Arkansas and working with the baseball program.

The right-handed Sanburn and left-handed Fant could pass for their namesakes. They pitch from the same side of the mound and look nearly identical to their older brothers.

“I see Ryan and think of Randall,” Van Horn said. “His mannerisms, the way he walks and runs, if you aren’t careful you’ll think it’s Randall. You’ll do a double take because of the head movement. Some things he does, it’s a spitting image of his brother.”

McCann is a team manager who also serves as a bullpen catcher. His older brother, James, was an all-conference catcher for the Razorbacks and started late last season behind the plate for the Detroit Tigers.

“He’s like his brother in that he’s just a great person,” Van Horn said. “I can tell you this, the parents did a great job raising these two boys. James was a hard worker, and this one is just like him.”

If not for some off-season moves, there would have been even more connections for the Razorbacks. Senior pitcher Lance Phillips played last season with his younger brother Alex, who has since transferred. Blake Baxendale, the younger brother of former Arkansas pitcher DJ Baxendale, also transferred.

Arkansas continues to recruit many of the same families. Pitcher Brendan Stanek, the younger brother of former pitcher Ryne Stanek, signed with the Razorbacks last November and should play in 2016. Pitcher Tyler Benninghoff, whose older brother Jack is a freshman outfielder this season, verbally committed to Arkansas in January and could sign later this year to be eligible in 2017.

“I think that’s a good sign with what we have done with our program,” Van Horn said. “One thing is for sure, the entire family is going to have a pretty good idea about what we are doing and whether they like it. When you bring brothers in, that tells you that things are going well.”

That comfort and familiarity with the coaching staff and campus gives parents the ease of mind to send their children such a long way from home. For instance, Fayetteville is a two-day drive from the McCann home in Santa Barbara, California.

“The times that I came here to watch James play baseball, I enjoyed the campus, the atmosphere and the culture here,” Michael McCann said. “I fell in love with it and Arkansas was my home. We both made homes here.”

The younger brothers on this year’s team can recall trips made to Arkansas five years or more before they ever enrolled at the university. Before they were players, they were fans rooting on their kin.

“Ever since Nolan first got here, I can remember checking the rosters to see who was playing and all that, and I was really into it,” Parker Sanburn said. “I remember watching James McCann play and thought he was the coolest guy ever. Then I get here and see Mike and it was just a cool thing. “It was comforting knowing I had been around it a little bit, what it took and what was expected of me.”

The connections extend past just the immediate families. Parker Sanburn said he was drawn to Arkansas because of Van Horn and his coaching staff, in particular former hitting coach and ace recruiter Todd Butler.

His younger cousin, Chandler Sanburn, is now a freshman pitcher at Wichita State where Butler is head coach.

“Last year I was trying to sneak him in here to Arkansas,” Parker Sanburn said. “It didn’t quite work out, but it all worked out for him because he’s at a great place with a great coach. It’s wild how that all works.”

Many of the former players like James McCann and Nolan Sanburn - both second round draft picks - can still be seen around Baum Stadium working out during the off-season. Some, like McCann, have even bought homes in Fayetteville.

It reinforces a family atmosphere easily identified with a glance at the latest roster.

“When I’m home, I call this home,” Parker Sanburn said. “Nolan still calls it home, too. We’ve really laid a foundation here for ourselves and we really enjoy it.”


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