State of the Hogs: Omaha
Stephen Robison was cranking line drives into the Rosenblatt Stadium outfield. The ping from his aluminum bat made a nice ringing noise. It should have been a pleasant sound, a happy sound. The Arkansas freshman outfielder had a satisfied look on his face as he watched them sail in for imaginary hits. Then came the zinging critique from the batting practice pitcher, Arkansas hitting coach Matt Deggs.
"I've seen the same hitter the last three or four weeks," Deggs shouted at Robison. "How about trying to get better today."
Robinson isn't scheduled to start Friday night when the Razorbacks meet Texas at 6 p.m. in their College World Series opener in Omaha, Neb. Still, Deggs was looking for improvement anywhere he could get it as the Hogs got in their final tune-up before facing the Longhorns.
"Oh, I was like that for the others, too," Deggs said. "This isn't vacation time. We are looking for a way to win this first game, win our bracket, get into the championship round and win this thing. It might be something Stephen does, or someone else not in the lineup."
But there's more than that to what Deggs was preaching Thursday. He is thinking about the future every day.
"I wouldn't single Robison out," Deggs said. "I had something for several guys today. With Stephen, I wanted him to know we try to get better every single day. It's not just about what he can do for us this week. It's getting better for next year and for two years later. You have to keep working. That's the way we are here. We are always challenging the guys to get better."
Just minutes later, after the Hogs finished their workout and head coach Dave Van Horn brought them together for a quick team meeting, it was more of the same from pitching coach Dave Jorn. He called his hurlers together to ask if they were "going to get in their running," a daily ritual for his guys.
"So, you guys didn't get in your running, did you?" Jorn said. "We'll get it in back at the hotel."
Jorn said later that he wanted to make sure that his pitchers "weren't just happy to be here. We are going to work and play up here just like we have all year. We come to the park to get something done and I wanted to make sure they understood that. They do. This is not a picnic. I made sure they knew they were running at the hotel, and they all said they were ready."
There is no mistaking the bounce in the Hogs' step in everything they have done in Omaha. They are having fun. However, it's clear that they are grounded in their approach. Their coaches know no other way than doing it the old-fashioned way. Hard work and scrappy play is the Van Horn way. They have not let up in Omaha.
"Our job is to keep our focus, our perspective," Deggs said. "I think we were happy for about 15 minutes after we beat Florida State the second time (in the Super Regional). After that, it was on to Texas."
The Longhorns are the No. 1 seed in the College World Series. They ripped Vanderbilt's impressive hurlers, two of them first round draft picks, in a big way in their Super Regional last week in Austin. But don't expect the Hogs to back down Friday night.
"Our guys aren't scared of them," Jorn said. "My pitchers will go right after them. We'll pitch inside and out and go at them with our fastball, our best pitch. That's the way we pitch and that's the way we play.
"I tell them if they are scared of the other team, then just trot over there and sit in their dugout. Our guys won't back down."
If there is anyone afraid of anyone, it might be the Hogs of their coaching staff. None may be more intense than Van Horn, Deggs and Jorn.
"We do get after it," Deggs said. "Our guys love that. They know our approach. We are aggressive in the way we pitch, the way we hit at the plate and the way we play the outfield. We play pretty shallow most of the time and we probably will do that here. You have to have speed and arms to do that, and we have that in our outfield."
Indeed, the Hogs can fly in the outfield, especially when they go with Jake Dugger in left, Casey Rowlett in center and Scott Bridges in right. That trio has performed at a high level of late.
There may have been a time that outfield play wasn't that important at Rosenblatt Stadium. Home runs were as common as sacrifice bunts and singles. All of that changed after the 21-14 CWS championship game in 1998. Aluminum bats were given more weight (to slow the speed of the bats) and the Rosenblatt fences were moved back.
"It's a bigger park than it was a few years ago," Van Horn said. "It's a little bigger than our park, but the wind here blows out more than it does at our park. Still, there is more room here and outfield play will be critical. The wind is blowing in from the north today, but it will turn around Friday and will be blowing out. Then, it will be a much smaller park."
It's 335 feet down the lines at Rosenblatt, compared to 330 at Baum Stadium. It's 408 to dead center in Omaha, just a bit further than the 400 at home. Both parks are 375 in the power alley on both sides.
"We'll play shallow here," said Deggs, who positions the outfielders. "But maybe not quite as shallow as home. You have to take the size of the park into consideration. But more than the size of the park is how we will pitch Texas. Charley Boyce, our starter, will pitch outside, and that means a lot of inside-out swings and opposite-field hits. There isn't as much power there and so we will play swung around that way for the inside-out swing.
"That's how we've played all year. We won't change here."
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