Diamond Hogs Ring In Spring Practices

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' baseball team began "spring practices" Monday in more winter-like conditions as temperatures hovered just above freezing in Baum Stadium.

No thermometer was needed to gauge the cold since it was obvious with several players sporting stocking caps and even batting gloves on their throwing hands while on the field.

"It's cold man," said Razorbacks junior pitcher Charley Boyce. "It's real cold, but it's not cold enough that we can't get out here and play."

Despite the conditions, Boyce said practices like these build chemistry, which was key in the Razorbacks' run to the College World Series that included a share of the Southeastern Conference title, the outright Western Division title and a 45-24 record.

"The chemistry is built during the fall at five in the morning when we're getting up and doing (abdominal work) and running together and running stadiums," Boyce said. "It's all this stuff right here when it's cold and it's not the best conditions you want to play in, but you do it anyway.

"We're all going through it together."

Arkansas historically opened the season at home against teams in their region, but instead heads south in less than a month to play Dallas Baptist and Texas-Arlington in a four-game round robin in Arlington, Texas.

Temperatures in the Dallas area, where the teams Arkansas will play beginning Feb. 11 practiced Monday, were more like spring and Razorbacks third-year coach Dave Van Horn knows it could put his team at a disadvantage.

"We call it the spring, but it's really still winter here," Van Horn said. "We're going to be a little bit behind on the weather, but we've still got to go play.

"Thirty-something degrees and no sun, if we would have had a game scheduled, we would have had to get it in because it's tough to make it up."

Monday's practice came without any concerns about class schedules as the University of Arkansas observed Martin Luther King Day.

"It was a good day to get going," said senior third-baseman Clay Goodwin. "That way, it's not so hectic with everybody rushing to the field (after classes) and you don't have be in as much as a hurry as you usually do so this was a good day to get back into the mode."

The holiday also allowed Van Horn to be creative with the practice schedule while taking weather into account. It started at 11 a.m. with a two-hour session inside the Walker Pavilion and moved to Baum Stadium during the warmest time of the day for batting practice after a break for lunch.

Then, it was back to the Walker Pavilion for conditioning which wrapped up before dinner.

"We went over defense inside because we didn't want to see anybody pull any muscles or hurting their arms," Van Horn said. "We went outside just because we wanted to see the ball jump off the bat. You can hit inside all day long and guys get bored with that, so if we get a chance to really hit, we're going to hit."

Hitting outside helps simulate the natural light of games as well as the true result of hits, but light faded and the wind chill dipped at around 2 p.m. when sunshine succumbed to overcast skies. That forced Goodwin to add a hooded sweatshirt from the dugout to his already layered attire while he fielded ground balls from his position.

"We definitely felt the temperatures drop out there a little bit," Goodwin said. "It was pretty chilly, but these practices are good because they're long and a lot of times they're a little tougher than normal, so it helps us get in shape faster for the season."

Pitchers have to be especially cautious in colder conditions. Muscles can tighten in mere minutes between throws so they're constantly stretching or running to stay loose and warm when it's their turn on the mound.

"We jog a lot all the time, though" Boyce said. "The toughest part is when we're out here hitting, you've got to run around and find something to work on while you're shagging balls.

"Anything to keep you going."

Hitters have to be weary, too, as fastballs up on the hands can ring their hands as much as a line drive into the pocket of the glove. In the cold, that can sting like a busted blood vessel for a few moments as shortstop Scott Hode found out when he made a diving stab towards second base and promptly ripped off his glove and started shaking his hand.

"We call it 'the bees' when you're hands got stung like that," Van Horn said. "You either get jammed by a pitch or take a line drive right off the palm that hooks back and catches you just right and that's what happened a couple of times.

"It makes you a little tougher and it's part of it."

Arkansas resumes its regular spring schedule today with practices starting at 2:30 p.m. Players also can get in some early swings during non-mandatory batting practice at 1 p.m.

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