Long before he'd turn down major dollars from the Los Angeles Dodgers to play at Arkansas, Cox couldn't think about anything other than baseball. Mostly, the freshman third baseman and pitcher from Louisville, Ky., became consumed with batting practice.
"I couldn't wait to hit," Cox said. "Ever since I began, I'd always have a bucket of balls and a glove and a bat waiting for him when he pulled into the driveway after he got off work. That was an every day, normal thing for me.
"We'd go hit after he got out of work, come home, eat Momma's supper, and then head back to the field and hit some more."
At the time, Cox didn't know those memorable afternoons and early evenings with his father would help derail the first half of his freshman season. That learned dedication has let Cox mold himself into an immense talent, "one of the premier hitters in the country out of high school," Arkansas hitting coach Todd Butler said.
But it also ingrained Cox's approach of endless work, an approach that ran him into the ground this fall and winter.
"He's an extremely hard worker, as hard a worker that I've been around," Butler said. "It's to the point in the fall where we were telling him to rest. He worked so hard and did so many reps. He might hit until midnight or go hit again at 2 a.m. If he could've gotten into the (indoor cages) building on his own, he'd have climbed through the roof to get in there."
Cox's body simply couldn't keep up with his workout schedule. So after the Razorbacks' fall workout-ending series of games, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and Butler decided to make Cox take two weeks away from the cages.
He complied. How could he not when his hands could barely hold a bat?
"Zack hit so much his hands (swelled) up," Butler said. "I thought he learned then. I said, ‘You need to slow down and work smarter.' He didn't slow down. He was working so much that his body couldn't handle it, with the weight room and the conditioning, and finally his back got messed up."
The 6-foot, 215-pound Cox enters No. 9 Arkansas' SEC Western Division showdown this weekend against No. 12 LSU with a season-high batting average of .286. That includes an 11-for-23 (.478) stretch over Arkansas' last eight games, though, coinciding with Cox's complete recovery from the sore back.
Van Horn chuckled when asked about the work ethic that subsequently contributed to Cox's slow start at the plate.
"He was hitting to the point where you get to the top of the hill, and then every swing you take after that might start impacting you negatively," Van Horn said. "You don't need 500 swings a day, and it was an important lesson for him to learn.
"Now I think it looks like he's turned the corner. He's a lot more confident, and he's hitting the ball harder."
Cox, also 5-1 on the mound for the Razorbacks, said his recent turnaround stems from two changes. One, he said Butler has worked with him on "staying back more." And two, his back is strong.
Sure, the frustration mounts daily for Cox. He's always itching to take a few extra cuts, always wanting to perfect the swing that has rapped eight doubles and six home runs for Arkansas.
But he said he'd gladly sacrifice those for pain-free at-bats.
"I'll just say this, I wasn't real smart about it," Cox said. "I'm going to learn from it and just go from there. The problem is, I don't ever want to sit out or not hit more. My body might be saying no, but I can't ever say no. So my attitude's had to change a little bit. I'm taking it a little more easy now."
Position: Third Base/Pitcher
Hometown: Louisville, Ky.
High School: Pleasure Ridge Park High
Notables: Batting a season-high .286, ranks third among Razorbacks in doubles (eight), ranks fourth in home runs (six) and has a 5-1 record with a 4.50 ERA. ... Drafted in the 20th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers ... Ranked the No. 4 player "that got away" from Major League Baseball, according to the Nov. 3, 2008, issue of Baseball America. ... Played for the Midland Redskins (Cincinnati, Ohio) this past summer, helping them finish second in the 2008 Connie Mack World Series. ... Named an Armour-All American, Rawlings All-American and Louisville Slugger All-American after batting .449 with 33 career home runs at Pleasure Ridge Park High. ... Earned Mr. Baseball honors in Kentucky as a senior and paced the Panthers to three consecutive No. 1 state rankings.
NO. 5 LSU AT NO. 12 ARKANSAS
WHEN: 6:35 p.m., today; 2:05 p.m., Saturday; 1:05 p.m., Sunday
WHERE: Baum Stadium, Fayetteville
ON THE AIR: KFAY-AM 1030; KURM-AM 790, FM-100.3; KHGG-AM 1580, FM-103.1; KXIO-FM 106.9
RECORDS: LSU 34-12, 14-7 Southeastern Conference; Arkansas 30-12, 13-7
SERIES RECORD: LSU leads 45-21
TODAY'S PROBABLE STARTERS: LSU, Anthony Ranaudo (5-2, 2.89); Arkansas, Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 4.30)