RazorbacksSports

Arkansas begins baseball practice, toughens up schedule

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ 2023 baseball season is nearing as practice started Friday for what Dave Van Horn hopes is another outstanding year for his team.

Van Horn’s Hogs will waste no time getting challenged on the field with the opening weekend in Arlington, Texas, facing three national powers. The Hogs will open the season in the College Baseball Showdown against Texas on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m., TCU the next day at same time and then finish up on Feb. 19 against Oklahoma State at 2:30 p.m.

The games will be played in Globe Life Field which is the home of the Texas Rangers. Weather won’t be a factor since the stadium has a retractable roof. Van Horn said it’s nice to know the team will play regardless of the weather.

“Well, first off, what I like about it is we know we’re gonna play,” Van Horn said. “Unless we have- Like, two years ago, we almost didn’t play because it froze out and pipes were breaking and there’s no water. And we moved the tournament back from Saturday to Monday, I think. We were all just so excited to play because, you know, COVID hit the year before and we got 16 games in. We would have hitchhiked down there to play. We bused down there. We don’t bus a lot of places, but it was fun, actually. We enjoyed it. They might not know: We’re busing again down there and back. It’ll be fun. So you know, whatever.”

Opening the season in a nice facility against three of the nation’s top teams has Van Horn excited for the beginning of the year.

“But yeah, it’s a really, really nice venue.” Van Horn said. “The facility is second-to-none and the big leaguers feel that way. It’s 72 degrees in there and the lights are incredible and the field is… From the stands it looks like it’s grass, but it’s turf. It’s fake. As a matter of fact, I was doing interviews with Phil (Elson), our radio guy, and it was Sunday’s interview, and Phil had to stay… Because of all these protocols, we did it over the phone. He was up in the booth in the stadium. Kind of a funny story, he goes, ‘Man, from up there that grass just really plays great. How do you feel about the surface?’ And I said, ‘Phil, this is turf.’ He goes, ‘You’re kidding me.’ He didn’t even know until the third day, I guess that was Monday. It’s just a great surface, everything about it.

“And then the hotel we get to stay in is connected right there to the facility. There’s food, restaurants right there. That gives you a little bit more of a feel like being up in Nebraska, just walking around. And if you play the night game, as a player you can walk over with your pass and just go watch a few innings of the game that’s two ahead of you or whatever. It’s just a great setup. More than anything, we know the weather’s going to be nice when we step in there, no matter what it is outside, so that’s a really good feeling.”

The first weekend’s tough slate is part of a 2023 non-conference schedule that Van Horn and his staff intentionally beefed up after having just a 41 RPI in 2022.

The Razorbacks (46-21) made it to the College World Series in Omaha last season, but had to go on the road in both the NCAA Tournament Regionals and Super Regionals because of the low RPI.

“We’re trying to schedule RPI situations a little better,” Van Horn said. “You know, if you take care of business in the league, and probably this year more than ever, I mean, we’re on the road against the No. 1-ranked team in the country, the No. 2, 3-ranked team in the country. Because when you’re on the road, obviously, if you beat people it helps you more than winning at home or at a neutral site. It’ll take care of itself. But the more non-conference games you can find and you win them against teams that obviously are in the top 100 or top 50 or they have a winning record in their league or a winning record overall, that’s how they add all that up. It helps you.

“This year’s non-conference with Vegas coming in here and some of these guys coming in here, non-conference on the road the first weekend. I know they’re neutral site games, but you win those games, it’s really going to help your RPI down the road when they start beating people.”

Arkansas’ first home game is on Tuesday, Feb. 21, when Grambling comes in for a 3 p.m. game. The Hogs will be at home for a weekend series against Eastern Illinois for three games. Friday’s game starts at 2 p.m., Saturday at noon and Sunday at 1 p.m. 

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