FAYETTEVILLE - Craig Gentry knew his playing days at the University of Arkansas would help him as he pursued a professional baseball career. What Gentry didn't know, though, is that his pro career would lead him on a path back home.
Now in his second full season of minor league ball, Gentry is exceeding even his own expectations as he has risen to the Double-A level in the Texas Rangers organization. But as happy as the Van Buren native and former Razorback is with his development, he's just as pleased with where that has led him this weekend.
With Gentry's Frisco RoughRiders in Sprindale this weekend for a three-game set against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, it marks a homecoming of sorts. And for Gentry, it's a homecoming he never dreamed would be possible up until a few months ago.
"To be honest with you, no," Gentry said. "I knew that our Double-A and Triple-A (affiliates) were kind of close to where I was from. But then I found out this offseason that they were getting that team up in Springdale and I was pretty excited. I heard about it and I was hoping to get a job up here at Double-A and come back here and play.
"So yeah, it's going to be nice to be able to have my family and friends be able to actually come watch we play again."
Gentry had a fourth-inning double and an RBI single in Frisco's four-run rally in the eighth to down the Naturals 4-2 on Saturday night.
The teams will meet again Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. and Monday at 1 p.m.
A former Fort Smith Christian standout, Gentry made sure his family and friends could watch him as often as they pleased when he elected to attend Arkansas-Fort Smith out of high school. Then after two years with the Lions, Gentry transferred to Arkansas.
Playing center field for the Razorbacks in 2005 and 2006, Gentry polished his game and - as he puts it - got his name on the map.
"Being at Arkansas got me here," Gentry said. "Being at a great program like that and getting my name out there is the only reason I'm here today. So I'm thankful for that every day."
Once his name was out there, the Rangers took notice by drafting Gentry in the 10th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. And since then, the former Hog has worked his way up the organizational ladder at a pace which even comes as a surprise to Gentry.
"I think this is actually a little ahead of where I thought I was going to be," Gentry said. "I think it's a good spot for me right now and to be honest with you I didn't expect to be this far right now. But I'm just enjoying it."
And now that Gentry is back in town, others can enjoy his play as well.
"When we heard Double-A baseball might come to Northwest Arkansas, that's one of the things we talked about," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "It will be fun to watch guys that played in the SEC and even more so to watch our guys that were Razorbacks.
"To watch them and to see them develop on the way up, it's kind of fun and it makes you proud."
Hitting .280 with one home run, 16 runs batted in and seven stolen bases in 42 games for Frisco, Gentry is definitely making his mark at the Double-A level. But while he is happy with his progress, Van Horn doesn't believe Gentry is close to reaching the cap of his potential just yet.
"Craig always had all the skills," Van Horn said. "They always talk about the five tools and he's got the arm, the speed and I think his offense has improved over time. He's also an outstanding defensive player, I just think the only thing he lacked was power and that wasn't his game.
"So it doesn't surprise me that once he got into professional baseball and they got to see him on an everyday basis that they realized he's got a lot of the tools it takes to get to the big leagues."
Indeed, this might be just a stop on the map to much greater things for Gentry. But at least for one weekend, this stop is one he will truly enjoy.
Because whether he dreamed it or not, pro ball has brought him back home.
"It's great," Gentry said. "I mean we have great fans (at Arkansas), they're real supportive and they actually keep up with you really well. So it's always nice to be able to come back home. It's a nice reminder of how it used to be, and it should be a lot of fun.
"I'm really looking forward to it."
Team: Frisco RoughRiders
Position: Center field
Notable: A native of Van Buren, Gentry graduated from Fort Smith Christian before playing his college baseball at both Arkansas-Fort Smith and the University of Arkansas.
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