Hammer Time

FAYETTEVILLE -- His moniker comes from a household tool and it's made him a household name.

Meet the hammer.

Well ...

More like sledgehammer.

Suddenly, Danny "The Hammer" Hamblin is fast becoming a cult hero in Northwest Arkansas and beyond.

Maybe, because he's a rap artist -- with a baseball bat instead of a golden throat or un-printable lyrics-- but not because Eminem has been replaced by 50 Cent as his musical choice when he steps to the plate.

Hamblin seems just to choose the artist with the most hits.

Ironic, Isn't it?

Dude, doesn't pick M.C. Hammer to serenade him to his at-bats for this Arkansas baseball team.

Maybe not, because he's got more pop hits on the charts.

With a bullet.

Holy, Dick Clark!

And just take a look at his statistics.

Hamblin, a 6-foot-1, 203-pound first baseman/designated -- right-handed hitting -- sophomore from Rowlett, Texas, is batting .373 with a team-leading .309 average in Southeastern Conference games, has a team-leading 57 hits, heading into this weekend.

It begins tonight at Kentucky, where Arkansas opens another critical SEC battle with Hamblin cemented into the starting lineup.

Also ...

Hamblin leads his team in runs scored (37), doubles (16), home runs (10) and total bases (105).

In addition, among the starters, he's got the best fielding percentage (.995) in 41 games. He's made only one error.

"Oh man, the SEC," Hamblin said. "I think it's the best conference in the nation. You know, pitching and hitting, all the aspects of the game.

"It's made me go to a different level. I have to work hard. Makes everything that much better."

Frankly, Hamblin was pretty good when he got here.

Last year, he arrived on campus as unknown to most as Marshall Mathers (Eminem) without a recording contact.

That's changed.



ONCE UPON A TIME

Not often does one get to see this type of talent. However, plenty saw it last year when Hamblin became a freshman All-American and led the Razorbacks to the College World Series for the first time since 1989.

In his heart of hearts, he believes it can happen again, despite the No. 23 Razorbacks being 8-10 in the SEC standings and 31-11 overall.

That confidence comes after Arkansas got swept in its last SEC series, in Baum Stadium, last weekend against LSU.

"There's so much baseball left; it's the SEC," Hamblin said. "Every team is going to get swept every once in awhile. Good thing about this team, we're mentally tough.

"We've been through so much (suspensions of leading hitters Casey Rowlett and Scott Bridges and the injury to reliever Trey Holloway) but we always bounce back. We're going to just take one game at a time.

"We've got to play every inning."

Even with a sore left arm -- Hamblin was hit by a pitch just below his shoulder at Southwest Missouri State on April 19 , which has swollen so large it could be entered as a hot-air balloon and featured on "Good Morning America," live from Albuquerque, N.M. -- he's ready to play.

Really, not unexpected.

Last year, being used primarily as a designated hitter, Hamblin -- in a 14-7 win against St. John's on Feb. 20, 2004 to be exact -- had his right shoulder pop out of place as he slid back into first base.

Ouch!

In that game, Hamblin went 3-for-3 with an RBI.

Remember?

At the time, Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn feared the worst.

"Bad thing is, he might be done -- for the year," Van Horn said. "I hope not."

Hamblin wasn't.

This sweet-swinging, powerful Porker returned to the lineup four days later, going 1-for-3 and scoring two runs in a 7-1 win against McNeese State.

As a true freshman, Hamblin played in 63 games, batted .304 and clubbed 8 homers and had 42 RBIs. He also had 19 doubles, scored 53 runs and was 10 of 12 on stolen base attempts.

This season, it's been more about "Hammer Time" because he's becoming the "Sultan of Swine" and not just because he wears No. 3.

However, Babe Ruth would be proud.

Oh, but he's got other tools --among them, a soft-spoken, but strong, leadership ability -- to boot.

"Oh yeah, I think he's the leader of our team," said former Texas sidekick and freshman utility player Clint Arnold. "He's a huge part of our team."

Still ...

On April 12, in a 15-8 win against Oral Roberts in Tulsa in J.L. Johnson Stadium, Hamblin tied a school record by sending three baseballs out of the park, looking for a place to land.



SHAKY START

Because he primarily was a designated hitter last year -- in large measure because of his early season injury -- Hamblin didn't get to play much in the field as a freshman.

Still, it was good enough for 77 hits in 253 plate appearances, 19 doubles and 8 homers and that aforementioned All-American status.

Hamblin got off to a slow start this season, hitting just .214 in the first nine games.

Then he hit his stride.

"I wasn't sure how I was going to bounce back, after missing a summer and a fall," Hamblin said. "Basically, the first three weeks of the season was basically my summer and my fall. Me and (hitting) coach (Matt) Deggs worked had on my swing that I was comfortable with, getting comfortable in my stance.

"It really helped me out a lot.

Some people weren't surprised.

"Oh man, Danny and I kind of grew up together playing summer ball together," Arnold said. "He's a great guy. He's really stepped it up this year, put up some big numbers.

"He's had a great year."

Razorbacks catcher Brian Walker agreed.

"It's been unbelievable, that's what we all knew he was going to do," Walker said. "Last year, I wasn't here ... he puts in a lot of time and works hard. That's what we expect out of him. That's what he expects out of himself. There's no surprises there.

"He can swing the bat, he can play defense."

And that's something junior right-handed pitcher Charley Boyce can appreciated without looking at stats.

"Yeah, he's been playing well for us, been hitting the ball well for us, up to this point," Boyce said. "I'm pretty sure he's high up on the statistics. He started swinging the bat well a couple of weeks ago.

"It's nice to see him doing what he's doing."

Van Horn certainly won't argue that point.

"He's had a solid season," Van Horn said. "Really, he got off to a slow start which probably could have been predicted because of lack of just time on a baseball field. Last year, he DHed for us all year.

"Didn't play all summer, had surgery, didn't play in the fall.

"Now, he's just getting back in the groove a little bit. I think he's taken over a little bit as our offensive leader."

Maybe because he's on the field.

"Third base is my favorite position," Hamblin said. "I feel more comfortable over there because I like to move around and you get a lot more balls over there. You get more active. First base has been awesome for me, though, just to be on the field somewhere.

"I love being on the field.

"Last year, it was tough for the first week or so. I had to get used to DHing. Now, it seems like every time I play first baseman, I do really well.

"I feel like I'm more into the game.

"I can be more loud and more of a leader on the field, than sitting on the bench, waiting to hit."

Like a hammer.






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