Diamond Hogs On Display

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas is serving up a double dose of sports for its fans Saturday.

Before heading to the Arkansas-Alabama football game at 2:30 p.m., they can catch Dave Van Horn's Diamond Hogs tuning up down the street at Baum Stadium.

There will be a scrimmage open to the public starting at 11 a.m. and fans attending will see an even faster Razorback team than last year's which didn't stop running until the College World Series.

"We stole 112 bases last year and we've got 88 of those stolen bases back," said Van Horn, who's in his third season at Arkansas. "They give us a chance to steal a base."

"Not one of them is a track-type speed kid, but good baseball speed."

This year's fall squad features 41 players on the roster, including 22 newcomers. Some of the new burners on the team are junior college transfers John Marquardt and Craig Gentry along with true freshmen Clint Arnold, Brock Bond and Ben Tschepikow, who's from Fayetteville.

Coaches won't know exactly how much faster the team will be until timing players in the 60-yard dash next week.

Fans showing up Saturday won't need stop watches. They'll see the added quickness, not just on the base paths, but in the field as well which Van Horn said is one of the benefits in recruiting speedsters.

"You get to more balls," Van Horn said. "It makes it a little tougher to get a ball in the alley or maybe a ball through the infield with that quickness. It helps all the way around, running the bases, playing defense, it puts pressure on the other team."

Putting pressure on opponents is why Van Horn has been to the College World Series three times (twice at Nebraska) in only seven seasons as a head coach. He's built the reputation of being aggressive on the base paths and he said only the threat to run is enough to stupefy an opponent at times.

"Maybe they'll kick a ball worrying about your speed and your hustle," Van Horn said. "That's one thing that we really try to instill in them this semester.

"Run the bases hard because that reputation gets out there a little bit."

Fans won't see many homers hit Saturday. The wind usually blows from the south and straight in from right field in the fall.

Van Horn said there are some power hitters, but he doesn't anticipate the Hogs hitting more long balls than a year ago when they had 53 as a team.

"Our power will be about the same," Van Horn said. "Some of these young guys are 5-11, 6-foot and 185-190 pounds and they'll hit the ball out of the park a little bit later on."

Battles for playing time are brewing at all positions, especially catcher where Fayetteville sophomore Blake Parker is fending off newcomers Arnold and Brian Walker, who transferred from Arizona State.

Van Horn called his catchers "versatile" and said they all can get the ball to second base in about the same time. The key to who plays the most will be who hits the best.

"It'll all come down to Parker is a right-hand hitter, Walker is a left-hand hitter," Van Horn said. "We'll probably catch by committee a little bit until we get it all figured out."

Despite the loss of regulars Jay Sawatski, Clint Brannon and Boyd Goodner, the pitching may be improved as the Hogs look to find a pair of starters to join junior ace Charley Boyce on the weekend rotation.

The leading candidates are returnees Trey Holloway, Justin White and Daryl Maday and newcomers Shaun Siebert, T.J. Sinovich and Devon Collis, a summer transfer from Three Rivers Community College in Missouri.

Unless they look in the dugouts, fans won't see Danny Hamblin, Scott Bridges or Stephen Robison on Saturday because they're rehabbing injuries.

Hamblin had shoulder surgery in July and won't return until next semester while Bridges (wrist) and Robison (hand) won't be back until later in the fall.

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