State Of The Hogs: Dugger

Jake Dugger plays baseball the way I like to watch it played. His style: damned the torpedoes, full speed ahead.He's made his share of catches in the outfield on head-first dives. He's plowed into fences around the Southeastern Conference. He'll break up a double play with a nasty slide at second with the best of them.

It's the style Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn admires and tries to recruit. He knew pretty quickly during the recruiting process that the junior from Omaha, Neb., was that type of player.

"I think he saw that when he came to see me play basketball," Dugger said. "I was the point guard of my team and I fouled out plenty. I know I fouled out the night he saw me play. I try to play hard. It's just the way I play and compete."

Van Horn chuckles about that basketball game. He said Dugger was assigned to guard the state's best talent.

"Jake was pretty much a sacrificial lamb that night," Van Horn said. "He didn't just foul out. He was gone by halftime. He hustled and played hard."

That's not what Dugger remembers Van Horn saying about that night.

"After the game, he told me the game was a hack job by me," Dugger said. "But I think he liked it. I just played hard and tried to have fun."

That's what he says the Hogs must do this weekend when they host the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium. The Hogs begin play at 7 p.m. Friday against Oral Roberts.

"All we want to do is take it one game at a time and see what we can do," Dugger said. "We know if we play our best baseball we can beat anyone. But we have to come ready to hit, pitch and play defense. We have to be focused and play well. If we do that we can win this thing."

Dugger may be playing his best baseball right now. He's been in the middle of a lot of rallies over the past month. He's first or second in seven offensive categories for the Hogs, including tops in walks (39) and slugging percentage (.574). He's hitting .323 with a .446 on-base percentage. He's hit 12 homers with 43 RBIs and 42 runs scored.

"He's been very solid for us defensively and at the plate," Van Horn said. "He's made a series of highlight reel catches in the outfield. He's having a fine season. He came out of the gate hot and was a main reason we won a lot of games at the start of the season. He helped carry us early.

"He's not gotten a lot of pitches lately because people are being careful with him. And, because of that he's gotten a lot of walks because he's patient at the plate and has a very, very good eye."

Van Horn likes everything he sees about Dugger's junior season. He especially likes the maturity he's shown off the field.

"He's come a long way from his freshman season," Van Horn said. "Sometimes, they think they are indestructable. They don't know how to take care of themselves."

Dugger said, "It's been a matter of listening to some men who have been around baseball for 30 years and learning how to take care of myself a little bit better. I eat right now. I didn't when I came here. I take vitamins. I get rest. I don't stay out. It's amazing how much better your body feels when you take care of it. I had to listen and learn. It's a long season and it helps to take care of yourself."

Dugger hopes the Hogs make it last a few more weeks. He wants to prolong it for the long list of seniors who have given a lot to the program.

"We want to send these guys out right," he's said several times over the last month. "They've helped the program win a lot of games."

And, they've been a part of a trip to the College World Series two years ago the last time the Hogs hosted a regional. Has anyone talked about the memories of that run? The Hogs celebrated in dogpile fashion three times as they first sewed up a share of the SEC championship, then won a Regional and then a Super Regional, all at Baum Stadium.

"Well, we will," Dugger said. "I don't know if we will talk about dogpiles just yet. It's one game at a time."

If there are any dogpiles, Dugger hopes he doesn't need three times to get it right.

"The first one, I was hauling butt from left field and I jumped clear over the pile," he said. "I missed everyone. I was a rookie and pretty excited. I did a little better on the next two.

"I do remember the excitement. That would be fun, but we don't need to get ahead of ourselves."

Since juniors are eligible for the Major League draft, Dugger could be playing his last few games in a Razorback uniform just like the seniors.

"You don't think about that," Dugger said. "The draft may force me to make a decision in a few weeks, but I think you just focus that it's postseason and if you don't win, your season is over. You just want to keep playing. The level raises. That's what makes it fun.

"I'm just excited to be playing at home. It's going to be a great atmosphere. I feel good out there right now. My confidence is growing and being confident is what it's all about.

"I like to think the best show up in the biggest games and that's what I want to do. If a pitcher makes a mistake, I intend to pound it."

There's no doubting the sincerity of that statement.

"Jake has always had that confidence," Van Horn said. "You could see it as a high school player, almost a cockiness. You like that. You can slow some of that down in a player, but it's awfully difficult to coach it into them. You look for someone that has that kind of confidence, that kind of an air. Jake's got it.

"You have to go find talent, but you also need someone with Jake's kind of mentality."

Van Horn hopes Dugger will be back for another season.

"We'll talk about that later," he said. "He'll probably be drafted, but unless it's in the top six rounds, the juniors probably need to come back. The money is not that different from what he'd get if he stayed for his senior season. He's been a good college player for us and he's going to get a chance to play pro ball at some point."

Van Horn doesn't want to think about playing any games without his "hack job" outfielder just yet.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories