Andy Shupe

State of the Hogs: Baseball Sage Dave Jorn

Dave Jorn has been described as a mentor, sage and life instructor by coaches and players with the Arkansas baseball coach. Jorn retired as pitching coach on Monday.

One of the awesome things to watch over the last 24 years in the life of Hawgs Illustrated has been the rise of Arkansas baseball.

Well, Arkansas has been good at baseball for a long time, spanning the coaching careers of both Norm DeBryin and Dave Van Horn.

But there is one under valued common denominator. It has been pitching coach Dave Jorn. He's been along as the key assistant for a total of 20 years, the last 14 under Van Horn. If you want to point to a key for both Van Horn and DeBriyn, it's been the pitching.

Jorn, 61, has been along for six College World Series appearances by the Razorbacks. He's done wonders most of the way, earning praise as one of -- if not THE -- best pitching coaches in college baseball.

Jorn retired as UA pitching coach on Monday, although it's likely he is not retired from baseball. It's expected that a major league team will want him as a scout in their farm system. His phone is probably already ringing.

In some ways I'm surprised. At age 61, he's not too old to coach the youngsters in college baseball. In fact, he's like the perfect father figure for the game.

But in other ways, I sensed that it might be time. Jorn battled health issues in the summer and last fall. He lost all of his hair due to thyroid issues, although he seemed better in the spring.

Jorn's has been more than a pitching coach at Arkansas. He's been able to explain more than baseball, too, but he's pretty good at that after working many years in minor league baseball, including managing for the Yankee system. But what I always heard others talk about as Jorn's strength was just his knowledge of life.

"I say Coach Jorn has PhD in life," said Tony Vitello, hitting coach and recruiting coordinator the last two years at Arkansas.

I heard the same things from Vitello's predecessor at Arkansas, current Wichita State head coach Todd Butler. Sage was another term former players and assistant coaches used to describe Jorn. Character and honesty dripped from Jorn. The vibes were always pure and good when you left a session with Jorn.

I recall hearing the story of a meeting between a former player, parents and coaches. Jorn was there. The player was disrespectful of his mother. Jorn went off on the player.

Through the years, players all said the same thing. When Jorn talked, everyone stopped to listen. It was going to be good.

Andrew Benintendi won the Golden Spikes Award last season, taking off after some Jorn advice about too much lower leg movement in the batter's box near the end of his freshman season.

"He's the pitching coach, but if he talks to you about anything, you are going to listen," Benintendi said. "He got me to calm down, keep my head still. And it helped."

It's the same kind of stuff from players through the years.

"He's a sage," said former UA pitcher Nick Schmidt. "He's taught me so much about baseball. Everything I know, it came from him."

Former Arkansas player and coach Brian Walker said, "Coach Jorn starts talking, everyone tries to get close and listen. You are going to get a chance to soak up a tremendous amount of baseball knowledge. Nick is right. Sage is the right word."

Former pitcher Jess Todd added, "He's made me the pitcher I am today. He's taught me so much. I give all the credit to Coach Jorn."

Even slugger Danny Hamblin noted, "He's a big part of our success, the recipe for winning. He's taught me so much about the game. I listen when he speaks. You know you are about to learn something."

Todd said he managed to sit beside Jorn during the SEC a few years back. He marveled at the way Jorn called the game.

"It was amazing," Todd said. "He gives the catcher the pitch. He'd say, ‘This guy is expecting this, so we are going to give him a slider on the outside corner. It'll be a caught looking, a strikeout.' Boom, it was exactly like that. He would call what the batter was going to do on every pitch and why. Amazing. You learn so much from him."

Butler was excited to leave Alabama for Arkansas under Van Horn, in part because he knew what Jorn would do with the pitchers he could recruit.

"I'm going to be honest, Coach Jorn didn't have enough bullets when I got here," Butler said. "He didn't have the arms. I told him I was going to get him some more bullets. He was doing great things with what he had. He did a lot with guys like Charley Boyce. But Charley didn't have the arm. I just knew if we could get Coach Jorn some better arms, we'd be in business."

Butler, in an interview four years ago, pointed to Schmidt and Todd as perfect examples. Both have added to their pitch selection and improved velocity after they arrived at Arkansas. Duke Welker, the Hogs' starter for Friday night's game, has improved his velocity in a big way under Jorn.

"When I'm recruiting, I tell the pitchers that Coach Jorn will give them another 2-5 mph," Butler said. "Dave Jorn is the best pitching coach in college baseball. I tell them that because I know it's true.

"I know Schmidt's added velocity. I think Todd has, too. Welker threw 92 mph last year at Seminole. Dave got him and now he's throwing 95 to 96. I knew that would happen."

Of course, Todd's success of late with a new pitch — a two-seam fastball — has been well chronicled. He used it to fan 17 South Carolina batters in the SEC tournament to set the Arkansas and SEC tournament record.

"You saw me early this year," Todd said. "I was getting knocked around. I couldn't get anyone out. Coach Jorn showed me the two-seamer and that's made me the pitcher I am now. He showed me the grip and said it was the pitch he used."

Butler said Jorn goes at college pitching different than most. It's more of a pro ball mentality in the way he calls a game.

"He does it with the fast ball," Butler said. "He doesn't call curve ball after curve ball and have them roll their thumbs over pitch after pitch like a lot of college pitching coaches do. He's calling a lot of fast balls like they do at the pro level. He's working the inside and outside portion of the plate.

"Of course, one of his secrets is that he gets their velocity up. He'll get their mechanics right and they usually do add some speed. That's one of the reasons he can use the fast ball so much." Schmidt nodded his head to that theme.

"Really, all I had was a curve ball when I got here," Schmidt said. "My fast ball was 86 to maybe 88. He got it to 92 and 93 on a consistent basis. And, he made my curve ball better.

"He helps you in so many ways. He helped my mental toughness. He got me in shape. He taught me the importance of running for a pitcher. It's not just one thing, it's so many things. He's been at the pro level. He's managed at the Triple A level and done so much. His knowledge of the game is unbelievable."

It's not just knowledge, Walker said.

"It's a passion for the game," he said. "If you around him, that passion spreads. He is also very demanding. I think that is all because of how much he loves the game of baseball."

However, it's not always the Jorn way or the highway. Todd came to Arkansas with an unorthodox pitching motion, a herky-jerky movement that some might want to change.

"Coach Jorn told me he'd never seen anything like it," Todd said. "Then, at the same time, he told me, ‘If it's not broke, why fix it.' So he left it alone. He said we'd work on other things, not my motion."

Vitello told me almost the same thing last winter. He said the goal was to find arms for Jorn to convert into top flight SEC pitchers.

"I've enjoyed working with him and learning," Vitello said. "I'm trying to soak up as much as I can, both with Coach Van Horn and with Coach Jorn. I think he's the best pitching coach in college baseball."

I asked Jorn about Vitello's comments about owning a PhD in life. He shook his head side to side.

“I don't have it yet,” Jorn said. “Still working on it. Nobody knows everything and you are never right all of the time.”

If anyone has it, it's Dave Jorn. It's been a pleasure watching him teach his wisdom all these years with the Razorbacks.

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