NORTH LITTLE ROCK – I headed to Dickey-Stephens Park ready to write a column making the case for more attractive University of Arkansas baseball games to be played in central Arkansas. The likes of Grambling State, Memphis and Tuesday night’s opponent – Lipscomb – just seem way too… blah.
Why couldn’t, occasionally, DSP host an early-season series with a Power 5 program, say maybe from the Big 10 or Pac-12? Knowing my angle, BOAS Grand Poohbah Evin Demirel started a text stream with he, I and BOAS ace reporter Andrew Hutchinson. What transpired was a mini “stadium debate” in which Evin delighted but irritated me because I had to string together more than one sentence on a text. (Insert mad emoji here.)
Of course, Andrew, a Northwest Arkansas guy born and raised and UA alum, started to shoot holes in any prospects of a meaningful game at Dickey-Stephens. One involved head Hog Dave Van Horn not being happy with playing earlier games at the Double-A home of the Seattle Mariners because the grass hadn’t matured, and it was hard to pick up the ball on brown grass – so no early-season big-name opponents. Like so many NWA natives had made the case for with football games in Little Rock, he saw no “logical” reason to move meaningful games to North Little Rock.
Even so, where there is a will there is a way. While it’s certainly not the current trend, Arkansas has played decent opponents in central Arkansas for both football and basketball, so there is precedence. Sometimes it isn’t always about logistics or finances. It’s about doing the right thing for fans and alumni.
An Idea for Arkansas Baseball
However, the UA brass know that fans are so starved to see the best Hogs program in the athletic department that if they ran the Academy Village Beavers JV squad out there, 10,000 faithful would be parked in the seats and pack the grass berm areas. Whoever Arkansas plays it’s a draw, and that’s convenient for the athletic department.
I was going to go all into that and make a case for throwing the fans outside of NWA a meaty bone, but then a new angle hit me about the time I was stuck in downtown Little Rock for 40 minutes waiting to cross the Broadway Bridge to park and head to the ballpark, which had long lines of fans waiting to enter two hours before the 6 p.m. first pitch.
The Razorbacks don’t just need to play a higher-profile opponent – they need to play more than one game. By the time I got across the bridge with my two sons, we had to park a half mile west down Broadway and missed the first inning. We weren’t alone as so many other fans had to wait a long time to get their tickets scanned.
In a regular season, college baseball teams compete in 56 games, which is a lot more than what college basketball and football teams play. Those Razorback programs do just one a year in central Arkansas (at the most, since football now plays sporadically at War Memorial). But there’s room in the baseball schedule to allow for more than one game a year in the state’s most populated metro area.
So, let’s pair Arkansas against one in-state team one night and another the next. The Hogs have played all the state’s Division I schools recently and again played Little Rock and UCA this season. Play them later in the year to satisfy Van Horn’s field condition concerns on back-to-back nights and allow 20,000 fans in all to enjoy one of the top college programs in baseball. Or, if it’s less than that, then the traffic jam issue will be alleviated.
Why it Makes Sense
Arkansas is committed to playing those teams anyway, so some kind of in-state series seems to work well. The athletic department saves money on the guarantee travel and those schools still get to play an SEC team in a stellar environment at a big park. It’s also close to home for them.
Just like the football coaches and playing at War Memorial Stadium across the river from DSP, Van Horn has to make sure it makes sense. The rub with playing games at War Memorial Stadium, historically, has been push-back from the head coach around giving up a chance to host recruits on campus.
Maybe there are other reasons Van Horn wouldn’t want to play more than one game, but all indications are he likes taking his team to central Arkansas to bring a taste of the team to those fans. After a long session with the media on the field, Van Horn was seen with several players signing autographs and taking pictures with young and old alike. Neither coach nor players left until all waiting had been accommodated.
That is very classy and shows that he understands the importance to these games. He recruits the entire state from Bee Branch to Dumas and knows that some of those kids waiting to visit the team will join him in Fayetteville someday. The interest in Arkansas baseball has hit a fever pitch despite the loss of the game. Van Horn knows and understands that and seems happy to oblige. After all, Tuesday night marked the 12th time his club has made the trip to central Arkansas.
But now is the time to look at upping the ante. Reward these fans who show up on a school night during the week with a better game or an in-state series. While they will try to show up to see the Hogs regardless, they deserve more games and more interesting opponents.
More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…