The upside of heartbreak: Hogs’ baseball success exhilarates state’s fans

Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight, facing, hugs catcher Grant Koch after the Razorbacks lost to Oregon State in the College World Series championship game on Thursday, June, 28, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight, facing, hugs catcher Grant Koch after the Razorbacks lost to Oregon State in the College World Series championship game on Thursday, June, 28, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.

Imbedded in our nation's fabric, baseball is a part of who we are. Perhaps that's because so many of us loved playing the game as a kid or maybe it's our fascination with baseball's origins and treasured history. The game remains ingrained in our culture, retaining much of its popularity among the American people. Most still consider baseball to be the national pastime, resonating more deeply in the country's soul than any other sport.

Only weeks ago, baseball reverberated throughout Arkansas. Razorback baseball took center stage, becoming a big deal for many Arkansans as they followed the team's captivating run in the College World Series. Even casual baseball fans took notice, becoming invested in the games by either being there in person or through television or radio. Baseball is just a game, but as the Razorbacks piled up victories and relentlessly advanced in Omaha, it became more than just a sport for many in Arkansas. The pursuit for a national championship was a source of pride, a way to show our state and university can compete with anyone. For others, it was simply their passion for baseball and the fun of following such a talented and classy team that did so much to earn their attention, support and respect.

The beauty of sports is that it can't be scripted. If it could, every Arkansas fan would have written a different ending for our baseball team in Omaha. To have fallen just short was difficult to absorb for fans who are starving for a national championship. One more strike, one more out or one caught foul-ball was how close the Arkansas baseball team was to winning it all. But it was not to be, and it hurt, far more for the players and coaches than the fans. In the immediate aftermath, a team that captured our hearts was left brokenhearted.

Perhaps some perspective is in order. This was Omaha, Nebraska--not Omaha Beach. Our players were fighting to win baseball games, not fighting to win a war. Yes, there was profound disappointment when it ended in Omaha, but the sun came up the next morning and we all quickly moved on to those things that truly matter in our lives.

Philip Martin nailed it in his July 1 column in the Democrat-Gazette when he wrote: "Only in sports are the lines between winning and losing so well demarcated; in real life no victory can be completely unequivocal, and most losses have some recompense." The boundary between victory and defeat in sports is unmistakable. The score is kept, and in baseball, the team with the most runs always wins.

But here's something else unmistakable--the Arkansas players and coaches competed like champions and were big winners on and off the field this year, and so were the multitude of fans who loyally supported the team, both at Baum Stadium and in Omaha. Every player, coach and fan should hold their heads high, be proud of Razorback baseball and be grateful for all the joy and enthusiasm it engendered this season.

It was a superb year for Arkansas baseball: a 48-20 season record, huge crowds at Baum Stadium game after game, finishing highly ranked in the Southeastern Conference and in national polls despite one of the most difficult schedules in the country, players excelling at every position, showcasing the Arkansas baseball program and our fans at the College World Series, which will pay meaningful dividends for the program in the years to come, and, oh yes, beating Texas in all three games in which the Hogs faced the Longhorns this season.

More than ever, we know the name "OmaHogs" is entirely fitting and proper. Arkansas fans flooded into Omaha, making it "Baum North" in the same manner we used to make Dallas "Barnhill South" in basketball every year in the old Southwest Conference.

Arkansas has the most ardent fans in college baseball and they get to attend games in one of the nicest and most vibrant college ballparks in the country. Dave Van Horn is among the very best coaches in college baseball. He's a strong leader, never makes excuses, tells it like it is and believes his program can meet any challenge and successfully compete with anyone in the country. With Van Horn at the helm, Arkansas baseball doesn't take a back seat to any other college program in America.

Razorback baseball will only get better. The future is bright. An Arkansas baseball team will be back in Omaha, sooner rather than later. And so will thousands of resilient Arkansas baseball fans who always find a way to keep their faith in the Razorbacks, the only team we have and the one that resides in our state's shared heart and collective soul.

Commentary on 07/19/2018