Not Hard To Be Humble

FAYETTEVILLE -- Oh Lord, Dave Van Horn knows it's not hard to be humble.

His third season as Arkansas' baseball coach has not exactly been perfect in every way, yet he still stands tall.

"It's been a roller-coaster, but that's part of baseball," Van Horn said. "It's not like you play 12 games a year or 25, you play 56 and you can turn it around at any time if you can put together a little streak.

"You get a little spark with a hot pitcher or a hot hitter and, man, you can roll."

Somehow, Van Horn believes his Razorbacks (33-13, 9-12 in the Southeastern Conference) still will roll into the postseason despite losing seven of their last eight SEC games heading into a three-game series against Florida, beginning tonight in Baum Stadium.

Those closest to the 44-year-old aren't sure where the confidence comes from, but they certainly have been influenced by the way Van Horn is handling what should be his most taxing spring since becoming a Division I head coach.

"Win or lose, he'll always be confident," said his wife, Karen Van Horn. "He's so self-motivated. He doesn't need anybody to be a cheerleader for him. He doesn't need to seek guidance or anything like that if things aren't going as planned. He doesn't have to lean on anybody."

In the last 38 days, Van Horn has lost four key players to suspensions and injuries and momentum in what appeared to be a promising season. He could easily be a complete pain in the neck to be around, but he has been the complete opposite.

"At home, he's as even-keeled as he can be," Karen Van Horn said. "And this season hasn't been any different because he doesn't really take it home with him. I either go or listen to all the games, and I'm the one who's asking him about this or that from the game.

"But he's already moved on. He's already looking to the next game."



Right At Home

Van Horn keeps his emotions in check so well at home that his two daughters often can't tell whether the Razorbacks won or lost that night.

"The kids, they sometimes don't even know where I've been," Van Horn said. " My 7-year-old had a friend over from down the street who's been to some of our games and said, ‘Well, where have you been?' I said, ‘I've been at work.' She said, ‘Where at?' And I said, ‘The baseball field.' And she said, ‘Oh, I thought that was just for fun or something.'

"I got the biggest kick out of that, and my wife and I were in the car together and just kind of looked at each other and laughed."

Lots of laughing can be heard around the Van Horn household no matter the Razorbacks' record or where they sit in the SEC standings (tied for ninth currently). He still cares tons about his job, but learned early in his career that there are more important things than baseball.

"He has a bigger view of life to think that life is over if you lose games." Karen Van Horn said. "But at the same time, he does take it seriously ... He definitely is playing to win.

"They keep score for a reason. He tries to control what he can during the game and then he leaves it at the field. He doesn't get grumpy about it or sit around and worry about it."

One of the things that keeps Van Horn hungry for wins is the fact that he can take a break from the grind by spending time with his family. He tries not to talk baseball, but often is approached at the grocery store or at one of his daughter's soccer games.

"I'm hanging out with the people in the stands and talking about baseball," Van Horn said. "But other than that, I try not to bring it home with me because it can be stressful if you let it.

"And if you want to do it for a long time, you've got to find some outlets and find a way to get away from it at least for a few hours every night."



In The Dugout

In spite of playing the infield at Arkansas and in the Atlanta Braves' organization in the early 1980s, Van Horn is a pitcher at heart.

He only has one pitch: Fastball down the middle.

He tells players exactly what he wants them do and exactly when he wants them to do it. He's a straight-shooter and that earns the respect of most, save for the occasional umpire he doesn't see eye-to-eye with on a call.

"He's going to let you know when you do things wrong," said sophomore Jake Dugger. "If we're not playing good defense or not pitching very good, he's going to let us know about it. He's going to be honest with you like all good coaches need to do, but he still stays positive about what we need to do to win."

Dugger and the rest of the Razorbacks haven't noticed much of a change in Van Horn's confident exterior despite the recent slide.

Even when senior starters Casey Rowlett and Scott Bridges were suspended indefinitely March 29 for violations of an unspecified policy, Van Horn remained calm. That's one reason that even after the loss of senior closer Trey Holloway, who'll apply for a medical redshirt this season, the Hogs were able to reel off five straight SEC wins.

On Monday, starting second baseman John Henry Marquardt underwent his third arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. There's a slight chance he could be back for the final regular-season series against Ole Miss at home, but no one is expecting Marquardt to come back and contribute greatly right away.

There are plenty of available excuses for Van Horn to lay down the rest of the season, but that's not going to happen.

Quite the opposite.

"Anybody that's going through a rough time from a leadership position will have to be frustrated from behind closed doors," Van Horn said. "But you've got to go out there and work harder and I think our coaching staff has done a good job of doing that."



No Surrender

Van Horn said he may have lost a little sleep, but for the most part he hasn't second-guessed many decisions or the way he's handled this tough season.

Of course, he doesn't like the hand the Hogs were dealt with the losses of Rowlett, Bridges and the others.

"It's been up and down the last month, but we have to keep fighting," Van Horn said. "Before that, it was pretty smooth and we felt like we were going to be right in the middle of it, playing for a championship right now. But we've just been too inconsistent the past few weeks with different lineups and batting orders.

"It's been a challenge."

And there have been plenty of positives.

The Hogs have lost only one nonconference game and their RPI is in the top 10 by most services which track power rankings.

"You look at our record – we've just done a tremendous job in nonconference play," Van Horn said. "And, really, in league play, we were hanging in there until the last couple of weeks. We had LSU beat, then we break down defensively and it costs us our starting pitcher. We had to go to our bullpen and we never really recovered and they pitched pretty well."

Van Horn doesn't get upset too often because he knows he's relying on 18- to 20-year-olds to execute his game plan. He still gets frustrated with mental breakdowns (like not getting in the right position to make a play or missing a sign), but he doesn't let it ruin his day.

"He just wants to give us the best chance to win," said senior third baseman Clay Goodwin. "He gets frustrated, but he tries to stay positive and stay confident, and that's important for us. We're not going to give up because he won't let us give up.

"There's always going to be ups and downs, but he knows how to handle it."

Even though he doesn't talk much about baseball at home, Van Horn's wife clearly understands his coaching philosophy since she's been watching him for more than 20 seasons.

"You just do it or you give up, and he's definitely not one that can give up," Karen Van Horn said. "When somebody makes an error, he always wants to put them right back out there. Instead of punishing someone, he wants to see them work through it, and the best way he knows to do it is to get right back out there.

"He knows you don't have undefeated seasons in baseball. You not going to go many games without anybody making an error.

"He knows nobody's perfect."


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