Explaining theoretical physics to a kindergartener might be an easier task than explaining what has happened to Arkansas baseball over the last three weeks.
The Razorbacks have been a perennial powerhouse in the Dave Van Horn era, which is now in its 20th year. A great chunk of that 20th year was typical. Arkansas spent nearly the whole year ranked inside the Top 10 in the country. Until the final weekend of the regular season, the Diamond Hogs were in contention for a fourth straight SEC West title. Conversations often focused on whether they would qualify for the NCAA Tournament as a national seed, thereby getting a Regional and, potentially, a Super Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Instead, after finishing the regular season with a 4-6 record in their final 10 games, including a series loss to Alabama that ended the Western Division title hopes, Arkansas was off to Hoover, Alabama for the SEC Tournament. Van Horn’s team subsequently went 0-2 and was sent packing in the quickest possible time. Now, instead of that top-eight seeding being a possibility, Razorbacks faithful are hoping to avoid drawing one of those top-eight seeds in a Regional round of the NCAAs.
Hoover, honestly, could not have gone much worse. The Crimson Tide, which finished 11th in the SEC, limited Arkansas to just five hits in a 4-3 win. Rain played havoc with the schedule, forcing the elimination bracket game against Florida – another team that took the regular-season series from the Diamond Hogs – to Friday. Nine innings later, the Gators were making another night’s hotel reservation and the Razorbacks were on a plane back to the Boston Mountains.
Alas, if only that was the end of it.
A few weeks ago, Van Horn and former pitcher Patrick Wicklander made mention of the Arkansas fan base’s penchant for exasperation about their team.The Arkansas baseball fan base has developed something of a national reputation as one of the most die-hard and well-versed in the sport, willing to express disappointment and/or frustration at the smallest of things. Wicklander said, basically, that makes it more difficult. Almost as though they don’t feel wholly supported.
Friday, after the loss, catcher Michael Turner followed with a similar thought:
The replies to the tweet are embarrassing. Turner, Wicklander and Van Horn are all correct. Fans, especially of college teams, take on this ridiculous air about players. They’re often “our young men” when they’re winning, or even struggling (as long as it’s someone else’s fault). But then the fans belittle those same players as childish boys when they dare speak what they truly feel. And if that feeling is one of frustration in return – or, heaven forbid, negativity – the pitchforks are out.
Reminder to those fans: you aren’t the ones playing. Often, you didn’t even attend the school. The players aren’t playing for you above all. First and foremost, they’re playing for themselves, their coaches, their teammates and, to a lesser extent, for the school. Expecting blind allegiance to you, sir or madam, because you are a true Arkansan, is ridiculous to the point of absurdity.
Arkansas Baseball May Be Teetering But…
The Arkansas baseball team doesn’t owe anything. They have hit a rough patch. In fact, you could argue the wheels are beginning to teeter, in danger of coming off.
For this season.
Still, though, have the first 40-something games been so conveniently forgotten? Did those not matter? Is a 19th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 20 years now not good enough? Dudley Dawson, an Arkansas graduate and yet still one of the most level-headed writers in the business of covering the Razorbacks, put it perfectly.
On the other end of the spectrum – which, admittedly, this author did not hear – was sports-talk radio personality Derek Ruscin., Ruscin, a sports radio host on ESPN Arkansas, didn’t appreciate Turner’s remarks after the loss:
Derek Ruscin Gets Into Hot Water
“I’ll say it, and I wouldn’t say this about a young player, Michael Turner, he’s a fifth-year guy from Kent State, he’s a stupid ass, the catcher for the Arkansas Razorbacks,” Ruscin says in the clip above taken from Friday’s episode.
He continued: “First of all, you’re not a Razorback, you’re a rental player and have sucked, so thanks for nothing. Secondly, as a rental player, you do not get to come in here and criticize this fan base, you stupid ass. Not a chance. The question was about the entire team, and you used the entire answer to take a swing at this fan base. You’re a disgrace, Michael Turner. You’re a disgrace!”
“You should not get to wear that uniform again. What a loser. You know why they’re losing, because you’re a loser, and you’re the catcher. You’re in charge of this whole thing on the infield. You’re a loser and a disgrace. And you can’t get out of this program soon enough.”
On Sunday night, ESPN Arkansas announced Ruscin had been put on indefinite leave. An ESPN Arkansas Tweet announced that his comments during Friday’s show “went too far and did not meet our companies’ [sic] standard for quality content.”
Some of this rant is purposeful. Takes are the rage in sports-talk radio (and television, for that matter). But, as Ruscin’s boss Tommy Craft Tweeted, it’s also going too far. It doesn’t make sense that Turner would have less of a right to make the remark because it’s only his first season at Arkansas. Nevermind that the Kent State transfer was the Razorbacks’ best player against Florida. Nevermind that Turner was Arkansas’ second best hitter on the season, with a .298 average, and led the team in knocks.
He isn’t worthy to opine because, what, he’s not a true Arkansan?
The Razorbacks are still a good team and it’s largely because of players like Turner and Wake Forest transfer Chris Lanzilli, who, by the way, was Arkansas’ best hitter this season (.318/.416/.480). Van Horn will have his players’ backs publicly, too, as he should. Sometimes things just don’t go the way they were hoped.
Arkansas will play for a spot in the Super Regionals next weekend, anyway and they have a legitimate shot at making them, even if they aren’t the outright favorite to do so. But, you know, even if they don’t, even if an 0-2 weekend in Stillwater or Austin or Fort Worth or wherever ends the season earlier than they – or you – hoped, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t have to show blind support. It’s OK to be frustrated.
Maybe, though, just maybe, if you’re the type to curse out college dudes for being upset and disappointed at you acting a fool, they’re not the ones with the problem.
See our latest on Arkansas baseball here: