Schmidt Focuses On Georgia

FAYETTEVILLE -- Think life's hectic? Try being Nick Schmidt for a day.

On top of the usual obligations of a being college student-athlete, the Arkansas ace pitcher has to field several calls each day from fast-talking agents, pushing themselves on Schmidt in hopes of landing a verbal commitment of sorts for their services in the not-so-near future.

A sophomore, Schmidt's not draft-eligible until June, 2007, but agents see a pot of gold at the end of Schmidt's rainbow.

To escape it all, he runs away. That's what he did after Wednesday's win against Centenary in preparations for No. 11 Arkansas' (19-3, 1-2 in Southeastern Conference play) game against No. 25 Georgia (15-4, 1-2) in Baum Stadium.

Schmidt's first pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. today.

"They're just doing what agents do and trying to get in good with you," Schmidt said. "It seems really early in the process to me. I'm trying not to worry about it. You've got to keep it all in perspective, but sometimes it's hard to stay focused."

Coaches hope it's not the culprit behind Schmidt's recent slide. At 20-years-old, it's easy for his mind to drift to the future, especially with the sound of agents' voices pumping him up daily about how bright and profitable that future is going to be. Schmidt's not the only Razorback receiving such calls, but he's certainly getting the most.

Remember college? Having to borrow change to simply supersize a meal?

Well, Schmidt could be the guy buying burgers for the entire team one day. That's what the agents are telling him. However, he first has to keep taking care of business on this team.

"You've got to be focused," said Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn. "You've got to put everything else out of your head and be focused on the task at hand and that's making a pitch. You have to be loose enough to allow your body to do that and when he does that, he's fine.

"When he tries to force the issue and he's not focused enough, then he's just like everybody else, only with a little better stuff."

Jorn knows more than most about the process of becoming a professional, spending a combined 13 seasons from 1989-2001 in the Yankees', Diamond Backs' and Mets' organizations. He said Schmidt's fast start may have made him a hot commodity, but also raised expectations to a level unattainable for any pitcher on a consistent basis.

"He doesn't give up any hits in 13-plus innings to start the season, what's your encore?," Jorn said. "That's a hard act to follow and maybe he's trying to follow the act. He's getting a little heat and for a while there was getting 10 or 12 calls a day from these agents, these leeches that want to jump on a free ride.

"And he might be putting a little bit of pressure on himself there, trying to do to too much, trying to strike out too many people."

A 6-foot-5, 220-pound left-hander who's fastball has topped out at 96 mph, Schmidt's future will take care of itself. Still, he regularly runs from Baum south on Razorback Road, west on 15th, south on Beechwood, west on 18th, north on Futrall and then east on 6th back to the stadium.

Coming off only his third loss as a Razorback at Florida a week ago, Schmidt (4-1, 1.69) probably ran the nearly three-mile loop harder than normal Wednesday night.

"Losing doesn't come easy to me," Schmidt said. "I obviously don't take losing very well. I guess I try to take my anger out on the next opponent. I just hate to lose."

Georgia is no stranger to tackling top pitchers. It beat Southern California ace Ian Kennedy 3-2 on March 3 by getting his pitch count up early. Kennedy, a hard-throwing right-hander who should be a first-rounder this June, gave up three earned runs on a career-high nine hits while walking two and striking out 11.

"The most we gained from it is seeing Kennedy," said Georgia coach David Perno. "Not the physical part, but the myth part. It was a challenge for us. It's rare to go out and win a game like that, especially the first game. They came back and took the next two games from us."

Two years ago, the Bulldogs tied the Hogs for the overall SEC title. Both earned a trip to the College World Series, with Arkansas losing its first two games and Georgia finishing third.

That year, the Bulldogs were scrappy. This year, they're much of the same led by senior catcher Jason Jacobs (.359 batting average) and junior designated hitter Matt Robbins (.397). They'll throw junior right-hander Brooks Brown (2-1, 3.00) against Schmidt today.

"They've got a lot of talent," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "Their entire team is from the state of Georgia and maybe one from Florida, so they've got a lot of in-state talent and are going to be tough."

After Schimdt, Van Horn will go with Charley Boyce on Saturday and give Trey Holloway his second straight start Sunday. He said it's important to start off every series with a win. That's why Schmidt has been his first to throw each weekend since last season's SEC opener.

His advice to Schmidt today will be simple.

"Just go out, relax and maybe have some fun," Van Horn said. "I don't think he has been (having fun), because he's been fighting himself a little bit out there and I think he's due for a good performance.

"But he's going to have to beat a pretty good club and a pretty darn good pitcher."

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