Arkansas Anxious To Finally Get On Home Diamond

FAYETTEVILLE -- Don't be surprised if a lot of hard-working people suddenly call in sick -- there is some kind of bug going around Northwest Arkansas -- or kids skip school on purpose Friday.

And for good reason.

Wink, wink!

In case you didn't know it, the Arkansas college baseball team has its home opener against Minnesota at 2:35 p.m. Friday in Baum Stadium.

So, forget about punching that time clock, riding that old yellow school bus, or watching Oprah from the middle cushion of the couch.

Just kidding.

Oh, but it is a legitimate temptation.

When these Fightin' Razorbacks return to Baum Stadium -- it's also known as the "Field of Screams" under my copywrite -- one can bet the parking lot could get mighty full, even during hours some cell phones might still be roaming.

Arkansas hasn't played a home game since June 12, 2004, when it beat Florida State 4-2 in the NCAA Super Regional in front of a record 10,027 out-of-their-minds fans, who appreciated every inning of it.

Gotta bet there was some dancin' on Dickson Street.

That, of course, vaulted the Diamond Hogs into Rosenblatt Stadium and the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the first time in 15 seasons.

Arkansas finished the 2004 season with a 45-24 record, a Southeastern Conference Western Division championship and co-championship of the SEC with Georgia, an NCAA Regional title and an NCAA Super Regional crowning.

And then touching the royal soil of Omaha.

All three unrehearsed Hogpiles, created by championships, were orchestrated in Baum Stadium in front of crazy fans which could rival Jerry Springer guests.

So, what does Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn expect on Friday?

"First off, it's great to be back home," Van Horn said. "Right now, on Wednesdays, you know, we've been used to packing up and leaving on Thursday for the last two weeks.

"We come back here, we know how good we've got it with our facilities. The field's level, it's smooth, I mean, I could go on and on. It's a great atmosphere.

"On the road, you get a little bit of everything.

"What am I looking for from the crowd? I'm already getting more than I expected for this time of the year with all the number of tickets that are going to be sold. A 2:30 game on a Friday, a lot of people still at work, kids are just getting out of school at 3 o'clock. Probably see a late-arriving crowd hopefully, with a lot of kids with them.

"Hopefully, we'll play well for them."

Arkansas has compiled a 6-1 worksheet with seven road games in Texas and Louisiana to begin the much-anticipated season.

"It was everything I hoped it would be, honestly" Van Horn said. "I think 6-1 ... if you'd ask me before the season started, I probably would have taken it. We're disappointed with the loss because it's a game we should have won.

"Overall, I was pleased."

Good news for Razorbacks fans is, their team plays in Baum Stadium until March 6. After Minnesota comes Illinois-Chicago.

"These are two teams picked to win their league and won it last year," Van Horn said. "Back-to-back weekends, we have two teams from the Midwest, who are the best in their leagues. We're getting teams who have a chance to go onto a regional."

More importantly, Arkansas is playing at home.

"To me, personally and I can kind of sense it from the players, it just keeps you playing throughout the game," Van Horn said. "A lot of the times, you get a lead, you kind of sit back and relax.

"I think when you have a good crowd, you just stay more focused, I think it's just human nature, a little bit.

"I think the crowd really helps you."

JERRY L. REED IS A SENIOR SPORTS WRITER FOR THE MORNING NEWS. E-MAIL: JREED@NWAONLINE.NET

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