State of the Hogs: Danny Hamblin
Danny Hamblin is red hot and the timing couldn't be better for the Arkansas baseball team. The senior slugger is hitting .434 over the last seven games with four home runs and 13 runs batted in.
However, up until a week ago, Hamblin was as cold as he is hot now. His average had dipped below the century mark. That's about as bad as it gets in baseball.
Well, most don't get that bad because the managers or coaches usually don't go that long with a player. Hamblin knows that all too well.
At the end of an interview earlier this week, Hamblin, a career .300 hitter, was asked if there was anything we hadn't discussed that he wanted to throw out as a topic. No, he said. Then, he added, "I just want to say I got more chances than I deserved. I'm glad I got those second and third chances."
Hamblin is out of his slump now. He's done well against four straight different foes. And, the homers he's hit have been rockets, not just fly balls that the wind helped over the wall.
If the Hogs contend for the SEC championship in baseball, it will be because Hamblin is again among the league leaders in RBI. It's another case where Dave Van Horn, perhaps college baseball's best coach, pushed the right button or made the right move. Or, in the case, didn't make a move.
"In baseball, you don't make a decision based on 50 or 75 at bats when you are talking about a player you've seen produce for three years," Van Horn said when Hamblin's return to form was brought up this week.
"I could see how hard he was working. I thought he would persevere and he did."
That's not to say Van Horn wasn't close to making a move as the conference season approached. He said a meeting in his hotel room two weeks ago in Minnesota convinced him to go a little longer.
"We'd all taken a turn talking to Danny, trying to help him out of that slump," Van Horn said. "No one had given up and we were still hanging in there. But it was worrying us.
"Then, he called me about 10 o'clock one night up in Minneapolis. He came down to my room to talk. He initiated it. He came to me. We talked about 15 minutes. I felt good about him after that talk.
"He wanted to tell me some things. You know, he could have gone out (to pro baseball) last year. He was drafted and he elected to come back for his senior year. You wondered if he was questioning the process, if he did the right thing. That was out there.
"He came to my room and said, ‘Coach, I wake up every morning knowing I did the right thing in coming back.' When I heard that, I thought he was going to be alright. It made me feel better."
It was about that time that hitting coach Todd Butler advised Hamblin to try a bit of a leg kick, something he'd seen in video of his sophomore season when he was in a hot streak.
"It's kind of a timing device," Van Horn said. "In this case, it helped him. It gave him something to get his swing started. When he went back to the leg kick, he started putting some better swings on pitches. He started to get some good at bats up at Minnesota and it's just gotten better and better."
Van Horn isn't afraid to bench a player. He also isn't afraid to call out a player who isn't performing. But in Hamblin's case, the Arkansas coach didn't do either.
"I've been around a long time," Van Horn said. "If you can hit, you can hit. I don't think 50 or 75 at bats is a clear indication of what you are going to do over the course of a season.
"He hit good in the fall. He was going to hit. I knew it. I think everyone here knew it. The thing is, he started off slow and he started to press. Our job was to make sure to find something to relax him and make sure he knew we believed in him. Our players did a good job of that."
With top-ranked Vanderbilt coming to town, it may be that plenty of Arkansas hitters struggle this weekend. There are no easy days in the batting box against SEC pitching. More and more there will be fewer and fewer good pitches to hit.
That's okay with Hamblin. He's just happy to be getting in some good swings after a tough few weeks.
"I came back to win a championship," he said. "I could have gone out and I passed up some money. But I knew what I was doing. It wasn't a whole lot of money. I wanted to come back with guys like Jake Dugger and Brian Walker, guys I've been around.
"This is a great place to be and a great place to play baseball. I look forward to this weekend." Danny Hamblin is right. And, Dave Van Horn was right about Danny Hamblin.
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