Baseball coaches are about as superstitious as they come. They may not believe in a jinx, but they sure don't want to take any chances.
So when a reporter trotted out the "H" word after Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn was about done with questions following practice Wednesday, Van Horn dodged it.
"I don't really want to jinx us," Van Horn said.
Basically, Zack Cox and Brett Eibner both looked good the last two days in preparations for the 2:05 p.m. Friday opener in the Fayetteville Regional of the NCAA Tournament, but he didn't want to go too far.
Good might not be the right description for the way Cox swung the bat the last two days. It might have been better than good.
After sitting out almost everything over the last two weeks to rest a pulled muscle in the back of his rib cage, the sophomore lefty showed he was ready for the NCAA Tournament with two fun practices in the batting cage.
"He was smiling, so I was smiling," said Todd Butler, the Razorbacks' hitting coach. "I don't know if I want to say he's healthy and 100 percent, but it sure looked like it. He was swinging it pretty well."
Cox hit two home runs Tuesday in what appeared to be a controlled series of swings in the batting cage. He was much more aggressive Wednesday and the ball was jumping out of the park. He hit two into the bullpen in left field in the early rounds of batting practice when the Hogs were going the other way.
Then, when the routine was to turn it loose to his pull field the other way, Cox finished his turn by scorching three straight into the wind in right, all for home runs. They cleared the fence and the wall beyond the visitor's bullpen.
Teammates shagging balls in the outfield yelped and chirped in excitement. Cox stepped out of the cage with a big smile on his face. A Major League scout from a team with a top five pick in the first round of the upcoming draft has been in the stands the last three days. He was smiling bigger than Cox. He will have good news to phone in to the front office.
"I know our guys were pumped to see the way he's swinging right now," Van Horn said of Cox. "All you can hope for is to be healthy this time of year. That's what we want, to have Zack and Brett ready to go Friday. If they can go and
Drew Smyly is good (with a blister), then you have your top guys at the right time of year.
"You can accept whatever happens if you have the right guys ready at the end of the year. But if you don't, that bothers you all summer and you think about what might have been if you were healthy. I think we are going to be healthy. But I don't want to say it just yet. Don't want to jinx this team."
It appears Cox and Eibner, who had a good day in the cage on Wednesday, will both be in the lineup Friday. That will kill some of the rumors of the past week that have been circulating among pro scouts. Whenever someone sits for postseason play, one of the first rumor that pops up is that they may have failed a drug test.
Eibner's status was confirmed to the good when he went in as a pinch runner late in the Hogs' second and final game of the SEC tournament. Cox, like Eibner, is squeaky clean and any doubts will disappear when he takes his spot at third base at 2:05 p.m.
"I've heard it all," Butler said. "My phone has been ringing non stop. All hours of the night. We've said from the start it's just a little pull with Zack and a hairline fracture in Brett's wrist. But they want to think about everything else it might be. It's been a different rumor every day with scouts. They are going to play. They are great kids, both of them.
"They've been a joy to work with and they both want to play this weekend. It's good to have them feeling better. They looked great swinging the bat in the cage today.
"The rumors? That just tells you how high they are going to go, both of them. When they are first rounders, everyone gets nervous about what's going on with them this time of year."
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