Hogs Junior Center Fielder Enjoys Chance To Start

AUSTIN, Texas -- With his glasses on, Arkansas junior center fielder Craig Gentry looks like a Wall Street broker, minus the briefcase and New York accent.

Clean cut. Intelligent. Articulate.

And on a baseball diamond, he's money in the bank.


This Fort Smith Christian graduate, who did everything but sell programs and park cars when he was a four-sport letterman, has speed, can play defense and definitely can hit.

"Gentry's probably the best athlete on the team," said Razorbacks freshman center Clint Arnold. "Oh man, the things he can do."

Arnold isn't the only one who recognizes Gentry's ability.

Here's Baseball America's recent take on Gentry for next week's Major League Draft:

"Gentry has above-average speed and arm strength, along with power potential and the athleticism to play center field. He's still raw, however, and hit just .316 with 11 extra-base hits in 44 regular-season games."

So, will he leave?

"Oh, I don't know yet, I'll have to discuss that with my parents and my family," Gentry said. "Right now, I have other things to think about to even talk about it.

"That's at the top of my mind."

Gentry, who transferred from UA-Fort Smith, said playing in the NCAA Tournament this week is his top priority. He said nothing else really matters.

Arkansas meets Miami of Ohio at noon today in the first game of the NCAA Austin Regional at Disch-Falk Field.

"It's just good to be in the postseason," Gentry said. "Having a chance to play, it's much better than put everything up, hang your cleats up right now.

"Being able to play my first year here, go out and having a chance to maybe play Texas. They have a great program.

"It's going to be fun." One major reason the Razorbacks made it this far is Gentry, who took over as the starter in center field when Casey Rowlett -- along with starting second baseman Scott Bridges -- were suspended for violating a team policy.

Although he started to see action in right field prior to the suspensions, this move to center has solidified the outfield.

Gentry has started 43 games -- he's played in 45 -- is hitting .322 with 1 home run and 18 RBIs. He's also stolen 16 bases on 18 attempts.

"I'll tell you what, he's probably the biggest bright spot of the year, getting to see Craig Gentry play every day," said Razorbacks hitting coach Matt Deggs. "Even if you look back before Rowlett and Bridges went down, we were starting to see Craig needed to play. He was in right field. Yeah, I think he was starting to make his way in there.

"Craig has come in actually and just taken off. His defense has been gold glove quality. It's hard for regular people to understand how hard those balls are he gets to.

"His speed makes the difference." Gentry said he just wanted a chance to showcase his talent.

"At the beginning of the year, I really didn't get to play that much," Gentry said. "I just hung with it, stayed in there and things worked out great for me.

"I'm happy.

"We just need to keep going as a team. We had Florida down (8-2 before losing 9-8 in the first game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament) and couldn't finish it off. We just have to get it going again. This season has been hard, up-and-down. You just have to work hard and stay with it."

To a man, Arkansas players think Gentry has buoyed their hopes.

"He's been a solid force in the outfield," Arnold said. "He's stepped up and done a great job.

"He's awesome." Arkansas first baseman Danny Hamblin agreed. "Gentry's added some speed to the team," Hamblin. "He's a leadoff guy, who we really didn't have. A guy that can really put the ball into play. He doesn't strike out that much and he also covers a lot of ground. You know, a great center fielder.

"He's added a lot to our team." Razorbacks senior shortstop Scott Hode certainly has confidence in Gentry as a starter in the outfield.

"He's brought a ton of stuff," Hode said. "He's a leader, by what he does, says. He leads our lineup, leading off.

"The ground he covers out there. It's amazing.

"Some balls are hit and I just say, 'Awe, man,' and all of a sudden, he's under them, catching them. Great kid. Great worker.

"I'm glad I'm his teammate."

And Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is glad, too. He knew Gentry had all the tools to be a legitimate college player.

"What he's probably done the most, he's solidified very good defense in center field," Van Horn said. "Running down balls. You know, very accurate arm. His arm is a little bit hurt right now. That's taken away from his throwing.

"That's the No. 1 thing I see. He's made a lot of big plays. You know, he's had a lot of good games for us, when he's gotten two or three hits in a game. He's a threat on the bases. He can score from first base on a double and can score from second on just about every single. He just brings a lot of quickness, puts a lot of pressure on the defense.

"He's been solid."

Deggs predicts even bigger things from Gentry in the future."That guy is really exciting," Deggs said. "He's a guy we're looking forward to getting back next year.

"He has a chance to be a star."

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