Good Beginning For Diamond Hogs

DALLAS -- Arkansas opened its baseball season playing under a canopy of gray, cloudy skies on a wind-chilled Friday afternoon.

Kind of the way it always does in February when pipes still are bursting and enormous heating bills fry checkbooks.

Perhaps the most significant difference this time around was playing away from Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

With hot chocolate and warm blankets in high demand, the Diamond Hogs opened the 2005 season in cozy Patriot Field on the Dallas Baptist campus in front of a couple of hundred fans, perhaps more than half of them Razorbacks supporters.

Arkansas won 13-3 in its first season opener on the road in 11 years. It marked the first time since Feb. 11, 1994 -- how ironic -- the Razorbacks didn't open at home. That day, they lost 7-3 against TCU, just up the pike in Fort Worth.

Last year, Arkansas opened the season with a 2-0 win against Louisiana Tech in Baum Stadium.

When we last left the Hogs -- on June 20, 2004, in Omaha, Neb., in the College World Series -- they had lost 7-2 against Arizona in front of 21,000 in Rosenblatt Stadium.

If the Razorbacks make it back to the CWS this season, they'll probably look back to those couple of hundred fans -- that's more of a head count than the 650 printed attendance on the official boxscore -- because most of them had Arkansas ties.

Much like the record-setting crowd of 10,027 which showed up in Baum Stadium for the last home game when Arkansas defeated Florida State 4-2 in the Super Regional on June 12, 2004, to send the Hogs off to Omaha.

Sure seems long ago.

Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said it seems like yesterday.

"I just made a comment to our team, I've been doing this for a while," Van Horn said. "This might of been the best that I've ever had a team go on the road (to open the season) and play and set the tone from batting practice on.

"We came out and took a tremendous pregame, batting practice, infield. Just did a tremendous job. And to come out and swing the bats like that ..."

Arkansas pounded out 14 hits and had just one error in putting away the Patriots, who the Razorbacks play again at noon today in nearby Arlington.

Not bad for starters.

"We had outstanding defense," Van Horn said. "We played mid-season defense and then had timely hitting.

"That was just a tremendous effort for the first day out."

Arkansas starting pitcher Charley Boyce, like most, was anxious to get the season started.

He was also clearly just happy to be playing again.

"It was nice," Boyce said. "It's what we've all been waiting for. I've been waiting for it.

"Our defense played extremely well. I think the MVP of this game should be the whole infield.

"They backed me up."

Razorbacks sophomore designated hitter Danny Hamblin, who went 2-for-5, truly could appreciate playing again.

After playing in the CWS, Hamblin has continued to rehab from an injured right shoulder he suffered in a 14-7 win against St. John's on Feb. 20, 2204.

"For me, I haven't played myself, in eight months," said Hamblin, who earned freshman All-America honors last year. "I didn't get summer ball, I didn't get anything so it was a thrill just to get back with all these guys and compete again."

It didn't hurt having a handful of fans from his hometown of not-so-far-away Rowlett, Texas, in the stands and many more wearing Razorbacks garb.

"Really," Hamblin said. "We looked up and there was a lot of Hog fans here. That goes to show we have a fan base behind us and that helps a lot."

Mostly, what helped the most was simply playing again.

Arkansas senior center fielder Casey Rowlett, who was 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs, said that definitely was the key.

"It felt good to be playing someone else because we've been playing each other for months now," Rowlett said. "We've got a little chip on our shoulder from last year at the World Series. We feel we came up short and we didn't play our best.

"We have something to prove."

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