Diamond Hogs Go Back To The Future

FAYETTEVILLE -- At one point Tuesday, nine players -- how ironic, nine guys on a baseball team -- surrounded Arkansas sophomore infielder/designated hitter Danny Hamblin as he sat at a table in the clubhouse and flipped through the pages of the hot-off-the presses media guide.

Everyone wanted a quick glance back at last year.

As the ghost of baseball past swirled unnoticed around the crowded table, all the players -- new and old --paid close attention as each page was flipped.

"We had a great season last year," said Razorbacks senior shortstop Scott Hode. "Hopefully, we can get back to Omaha (site of the College World Series) again.

"That's our goal."

In reality, the annual Razorbacks Media Day was more of a review than a preview.

Why not?

Arkansas finished 45-24 -- it was the most wins since 1999 when the Hogs went 42-23 -- won the Southeastern Conference Western Division title and tied for the overall championship.

And reached the CWS for the first time since 1989.

In Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., then-No. 1 Texas beat Arkansas 13-2 on June 18. Two days later, Arizona beat the Diamond Hogs 7-2 to send them back to Fayetteville.

As pens scribbled and TV cameras and tape recorders rolled Tuesday, all the players wanted to go back to the future.

And so did third-year Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn.

"We're excited to get the season going," Van Horn said. "It was bittersweet last year when we finished in Omaha. I really feel we didn't play very well. We played some great teams and even though we might not have beat 'em, I think the kids were disappointed in their showing.

"We had a good fall, a real competitive fall. What I saw in the fall was the play of the seniors. The older guys did a good job of coming back with a little bit of an attitude. They set the tone for some of the younger guys.

"I see a carryover."

That's certainly got to be comforting to Razorbacks fans who made Baum Stadium a "Field of Screams" in 2004.

On the "Road to Omaha" and long after, Razorbacks supporters have huddled around coffee shops throughout the state and babbled about baseball.

As the season nears -- Arkansas opens the season at 3 p.m. Friday against Dallas Baptist on the road -- expect the chatter to reach higher volumes.

More than an estimated 5,000 season tickets already have been sold and the first home game isn't until Feb. 25 against Minnesota.

"We'll play hard for them," Van Horn said. "I'll tell you what, the fans and the reaction to last season and maybe to the end of my first season here, it just seems to grow.

"It just seems just by being out and about in the mall or whatever, I'll have people who come up to me that I don't even know and they'll talk about how excited they are about baseball and they are glad we are here and what we are doing, which makes us feel great.

"You see it from women, men, kids. It's just been great."

"Confidence builds confidence. Last year, we knew we were better than people thought we were. We had a little chip on our shoulder. We're still going to play with a little bit of an edge. That's kind of one our themes, you play with an edge.

"You can't get complacent or happy, or read your press clippings.

"It'll just beat you up."

Clearly, the players know that, too.

"It's tough to get to Omaha," Hode said. "It's a big challenge."

Any other thoughts?

"Hopefully, it'll be a repeat of last year," said senior utility man Scott Bridges. "We seniors have to step up and lead the younger players this season."

Said Hamblin: "Looking back on last year, it was a great year. We've got a lot of guys back that know what it's like."

Omaha native Jake Dugger nodded.

"Yeah, we're ready," Dugger said. "We're ready to play some games. Do we believe we can get back to Omaha? Of course we do. We have a lot of guys back. We have more depth. We are stronger and faster.

"And we've got coach Van Horn."

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