Worth The Wait

FAYETTEVILLE — As far back as Brad Secrist can remember, spring time has always meant one thing.

Baseball.

Until last spring.

Arriving on the University of Arkansas campus as the student-first, athlete-second sort — after receiving a full academic scholarship — Secrist thought playing baseball for the Razorbacks would be a great way to pass the time between keeping that grade point average at a steady 4.0 level.

Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn had other ideas.

"I just encouraged him to come here to school," Van Horn said. "But I told him straight up, you will redshirt your first year and we've got to get you stronger."

So while the rest of the Razorbacks — who at 3:05 p.m. today begin a 3-game home series with Illinois State — were out making a run toward another NCAA Regional appearance, Secrist — a then, slender 6-foot-4, 170-pound freshman out of Joplin, Mo. — was on the bench, watching, waiting and learning.

And redshirting.

"You think it's going to be OK, then it gets here in the spring and you've never gone a spring without playing baseball," Secrist said. "I think that was the toughest thing for me (about redshirting).

"I mean, every spring growing up you're playing baseball and around baseball. Just having to watch, I learned a lot, but it was tough."

Secrist sure did learn. And just as important to Van Horn, he grew. With a year to hit the weights — along with the batting cages, and of course the books — the outfielder/first baseman was no longer a skinny brainiac just filling a spot on the bench.

Suddenly, Secrist was a serious contender for playing time.

"(Brad) showed some signs here and there, but this fall he's really improved," Van Horn said. "The strength was really the key for him, he's kind of grown into his body and now he's awfully confident. So we're excited."

After a lone and quiet pinch hit appearance in the series finale at Troy, Secrist was finally given the chance he'd been waiting for this past week against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

And to say Secrist made the most of his opportunity would be an understatement.

Getting the start in right field in the second game of Sunday's doubleheader with the Panthers, Secrist was a smashing 5-for-7 with three runs batted in as Arkansas walloped Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 28-2.

The next day, Secrist was given another start, going 2-for-5 with a home run, his first as a Razorback.

That's 7-for-12 in two games. Not bad, and you can bet it will mean more time in the lineup, too.

"(Coach Van Horn) said how well I did and how much I played was up to me," Secrist said. "So he definitely doesn't play favorites. He plays whoever deserves to play and whoever gives us the best chance to win, it doesn't matter if you're on zero or a full-ride (scholarship) and that's the way he's always been.

"I think that keeps people motivated to see that all the hard work can pay off. You see that they're going to reward you for that."

Right now, it's Secrist rewarding the Razorbacks.

From redshirt blues to a newfound pop in the bat, Secrist is proof good things do come to those who wait.

"I mean, you need a surprise every now and then. If you work hard, good things can happen. I tell our guys that all the time," Van Horn said. "You just have to be patient. Sometimes it just takes two or three years to play in a program like this.

"I'm proud of (Brad) for sticking it out and sticking in there and making that choice to be patient. They'll be some other guys that make that same choice further down the road."






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