Few schools in America enjoy as rich a history as that of the Arkansas Razorback baseball program. With five College World Series appearances - including a national runner-up finish in 1979 - and 21 NCAA postseason appearances to its credit, the University of Arkansas has long been considered one of the nation’s elite programs.
Entering their 86th season of play, the Razorbacks have seen the top and bottom of the college baseball scene. Fielding its first team in 1897, Arkansas played for 24 years before seeing its team discontinued from 1930 to 1946. Hugo Bezdek, E.T. Pickering, T.T. McConnell, Claude Watts, Norman Coyle and Francis Schmidt served as coaches during the early days of the program. All but Watts and Coyle also served as head football coaches at the University.
The Razorbacks got back in the baseball business again in 1947 with Deke Brackett serving the first of three seasons as head coach. It was in 1950, with Razorback athletic trainer Bill Ferrell taking the reins that modern-day interest in the sport ignited for the first time. Though compiling only a 139-149 record during his 16-year tenure, the foundation was laid for what was to come.
Wayne Robbins took over for the popular Ferrell in 1966 and coached for four seasons, going 50-51. His successor was a fiery young coach from Wisconsin who would eventually build the program into one of national prominence.
Norm DeBriyn was hired by Arkansas Athletics Director George Cole in 1970 and charged with making the Razorbacks competitive on a conference and national level. Arkansas baseball had not been a baseball-playing member of a league since dropping out of Southwest Conference play in 1926. One of DeBriyn’s first tasks was to resume a SWC schedule, a feat which was accomplished in time for the 1974 season. His teams proved competitive in one of the nation’s toughest baseball leagues and Arkansas would end up qualifying for 14 of the 15 SWC tournaments held during the Hogs’ membership in that league.
The Razorbacks became competitive on a larger scale as well, under DeBriyn. Arkansas participated in its first NCAA postseason in 1973, DeBriyn’s fourth season, and made its first trip to the NCAA College World Series in just his 10th campaign.
That trip to Omaha in 1979 saw the Hogs finish as national runners-up to Cal State-Fullerton.
In his final season as coach, DeBriyn guided the Hogs to an NCAA Super Regional after winning the Wichita Regional with a perfect 3-0 mark. The Razorbacks came within two runs of advancing to their fifth NCAA College World Series, losing the Super Regional two games to one to the host, Clemson.
A new chapter in Arkansas Baseball history began in 2003 when former Razorback player and graduate assistant coach Dave Van Horn was named head coach after DeBriyn retired following the 2002 season. Since taking over at his alma mater, Van Horn has continued to grow the Razorback program with six straight NCAA Tournament berths, one Super Regional and Arkansas’ fifth trip to the College World Series in 2004.
Facilities have played an important role in the history of Razorback Baseball. Upon DeBriyn’s arrival, the Razorbacks were playing games at the run-down and disheveled Washington County Fairgrounds field barely fit for pasture land. By 1975, Arkansas had moved into George Cole Field, one of the few college ballparks in the country with an artificial playing surface. The park gave the program immediate respectability and Arkansas would advance five times to NCAA postseason play and twice to the NCAA College World Series in its first decade in the park.
Lights were added in 1985 with the help of former standouts Kevin McReynolds, Johnny Ray and Tim Lollar, a move that again advanced the program up to another level.
George Cole Field was the site of the Razorback baseball program’s coming of age. The Razorbacks would go 567-142-2 at the facility for a winning percentage of .799. It was the site of the school’s first league tournament championship, in 1985, and home to a parade of all-conference and All-America players. McReynolds, Ray, Lollar and Tom Pagnozzi - some of the first Razorbacks to make a significant impact in Major League Baseball - were just a few of many DeBriyn pupils who honed their skills at George Cole Field and went on to excel in the majors.
Arkansas baseball is not just about those who have been able to play the game for a living. The Razorbacks have produced 82 all-conference selections (all since 1976 when Bill Montgomery was named All-Southwest Conference), 33 All-America picks (Lollar was the first in 1978), 53 all-conference tournament selections, four conference titles (1989, 1990, 1999, 2004), one conference tournament championship and six NCAA Regional Tournament championships. Since joining the SEC in 1992, Arkansas has already placed 23 players on All-SEC lists. Adding all these feats to the fact that Arkansas baseball has seen 37 of its stars go on to play in the major leagues, has dozens currently playing professional baseball and claims five major league first-round draft picks in Kevin McReynolds (1981), Jeff King (1986), David Walling (1999), Nick Schmidt (2007) and Logan Forsythe (2008).
Although he retired following the 2002 season, the magic continues with DeBriyn’s subtle influence on the lives of Charlie Baum and Willard & Pat Walker families, key contributors to perhaps the crowning achievement of DeBriyn’s tenure - Baum Stadium at George Cole Field. The 8,237-seat stadium, which can accommodate a crowd of 10,737, is unparalleled in the country in form and function and promises again to move the program to an even higher level of achievement.
Designed by the nationally acclaimed firm HOK, designers of such jewels as Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Coors Field and Jacobs Field, Baum Stadium at George Cole Field played host to its first game on April 13, 1996, as a then-record crowd of 3,328 saw the Razorbacks defeat Auburn in a doubleheader sweep. Named the best college baseball facility in the nation by Baseball America in 1998, the stadium has ignited the interest of Razorback fans throughout the region and helped Arkansas lead the nation in tickets sold in 2007 with 8,069 per game and set an NCAA record in the process.
Many former Razorbacks have given something back to the program that helped propel them to the professional ranks, but none so much as the all-star catcher Pagnozzi. In addition to contributing the funds which made possible the Razorback clubhouse that bears his name, the annual Tom Pagnozzi Invitational Golf Tournament and surrounding events raise thousands of dollars each year for the Arkansas baseball program.
Memorable moments of Arkansas baseball vary with the observer. Arkansas’ first NCAA postseason appearance in 1973 at Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will long be considered a watershed moment for DeBriyn’s program. Though the Hogs lost two straight, it was a signal the program had arrived. Just six years later, the Razorbacks raced through the NCAA East Regional in Tallahassee, Fla., in four games to advance to the CWS in Omaha, Neb., for the first time.
Three more wins in the then-true double elimination event put Arkansas in the championship game against Cal State-Fullerton. Fullerton, playing with one loss, won the first championship game 10-13 forcing a winner-take-all rematch. Fullerton won that one as well, 2-1, sending the disappointed Hogs home with the national runner-up trophy.
A third-place finish at the 1985 CWS also saw the Razorbacks go through Tallahassee and started a five-year stretch in which Arkansas advanced to Omaha three times, each time on an odd year. Fifth-place finishes in 1987 and 1989 were outstanding achievements for phenomenal teams.
Arkansas played host to its first Southwest Conference tournament in 1985, winning in three-straight games at George Cole Field with an opening win over Baylor and back-to-back victories over rival Texas. It was another example of facilities playing a role in the program’s success - only the addition of lights that season enabled the school to snare the tournament host honor from traditional sites Texas and Texas A&M.
Memorable moments are hard to narrow to such a small space but would include some hard-to-forget home runs and pitching performances. Ralph Kraus ushered in the school’s first home night game in classic style with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat Texas before thousands in 1985. McReynolds will long be known for his towering shots both at George Cole Field and at the SWC Tournament at Texas A&M in 1980.
There have been 12 no-hitters in school history, the most recent by the combination of Nick Schmidt, Brian McLelland and Devin Collis in 2006. They blanked Oklahoma State to join former Razorbacks Rich Erwin (1976), David Rhodes (1977), Scott Glanz (1982), Tim Deitz (1983), Fred Faust (1984), Steve Parker (1986), Dennis Fletcher-Tim Sherrill-Tim Peters (1987), Brian Cook-Brian Dennison (1991), Todd Abbott (1994), Richie Nye (1996) and Scott Roehl (2001) as no-hit specialists. Steve Krueger recorded the Southwest Conference’s lowest league ERA in 1979 and 1980.
Another Nye helped the Hogs make history again on the final day of the 1999 regular season. Rodney Nye homered in each of his first three trips to the plate to help the Razorbacks to a victory that gave UA its first SEC Western Division and overall titles.
Baum Stadium has already seen its share of memorable games in its short lifespan, such as the Hogs’ 11-run rally to beat South Carolina 17-16 in 1998 and a 16-0 win over Eastern Illinois in which David Walling fanned 16 batters to help give Norm DeBriyn his 1,000th career victory.
In 1999, the Razorbacks took their home-field advantage a new level, going 14-1 in home SEC games and ending the season with 13-consecutive conference victories at the facility. The solid play in home league games helped the Hogs earn division and overall league titles and brought an NCAA regional to the UA campus for the first time in school history.
In 2004, Arkansas duplicated the feat again earning a share of the SEC crown and topping the SEC West. Picked last in the division to begin the season, Van Horn guided this gritty bunch of Hogs to their second league title since joining the SEC. For their efforts, Arkansas earned a coveted national seed in the NCAA tournament draw and hosted its second regional in school history.
The Razorbacks hosted the largest attended NCAA regional as 38,773 fans packed Baum Stadium for the three-day event. Arkansas didn’t disappoint, although, it took a historic comeback to send the home crowd away happy. Down to its last out in an elimination game against Wichita State, Arkansas got a grand slam from junior catcher Brady Toops to complete an improbable 11-9 comeback win against Wichita State. Arkansas held off the Shockers, 4-3, in the regional final to secure the school’s first-ever NCAA Super Regional.
The following weekend, Arkansas dominated No. 12 Florida State in a two-game sweep of the Seminoles televised nationally by ESPN. Razorback fans set a new NCAA record for super regional attendance at an on-campus venue drawing 9,338, on Friday and 10,027 on Saturday. With the 4-2 win on Saturday, Arkansas clinched its fifth College World Series berth.
Omaha did not prove as kind to the Hogs, as Arkansas dropped a pair of games to Texas and Arizona. Despite the quick exit, the improbable run of this underdog Razorback squad captured the imagination of UA fans everywhere laying the groundwork for even bigger and better things to come.
A rich history with legendary players, coaches and games make Arkansas baseball a unique and treasured program. With Baum Stadium as a backdrop for the Razorbacks’ continued competition in the toughest league in the nation, Arkansas baseball promises to bring fans many more great moments for many years to come.