by Nate Olson
Arkansas baseball Coach Dave Van Horn is known for his trademark intensity. However, his approach, especially with off-the-field matters, has changed over the 18 years he’s been on The Hill.
“I don’t yell at players anymore. You only have to yell at them when they aren’t any good,” Van Horn said with a chuckle.
Van Horn ended his talk Monday at the North Little Rock Downtown Tip-Off Club with how the program has been able to recruit great players. He points to a combination of facilities, the fan base and how the coaching staff relates to the players.
“We treat our kids right,” Van Horn said. “We are just one of the guys. I tell people this, if the players don’t like you, they won’t play for you. They’ve got to like you. You’ve got to be one of the guys. You have to be firm; there is a fine line there. We’ve done a good job of that as a staff.
“I can honestly say since I raised two girls, or my wife raised two girls, I’ve become a better coach because I get it a little bit more. It’s not just about head down and baseball. They have another life, and they are out and about with other issues. I have gotten a little softer on that end but maybe not on the baseball end. I think it’s been good for me, personally. I feel better about myself now.”
That laid back approach was probably part of the reason why the Hogs were able to bounce back from the stinging 2018 College World Series Finals loss to Oregon State. I will do what Van Horn did in his speech and spare you the details, but you remember.
In the winter before the 2019 season, Van Horn preached to his team that they were going to be underdogs that season and have to work hard. Then, the polls were released, and Arkansas was ranked in each one. That spoiled a bit of his approach, but then the Razorbacks exceeded those expectations and punched a ticket to Omaha, again.
Even though, Arkansas didn’t get to the Finals, that appearance was proof of Arkansas’ emergence as one of the premier college baseball programs. The Hogs lost a boatload of talent from that 2018 team and Van Horn reloaded to the tune of 46 wins and a share of the SEC West Division crown. Van Horn showed his greatness by coaching that team to a rebound. His players’ coach mentality and his ability to develop players such as star pitcher, Isaiah Campbell, who picked up the slack for departed ace Blaine Knight.
This year, the Hogs are loaded for bear and are ranked in the Top 5 of most polls as they await an opening series with Eastern Illinois this Friday-Sunday. A deep run at Omaha is very likely with All-American junior sluggers Casey Martin and Heston Kjerstad along with young hurlers Connor Noland and Patrick Wicklander.
“I told [the team] after our last scrimmage that I was going and to Little Rock and I going to go over there and tell everybody how good we are,” Van Horn said. “I kind of laughed and said, ‘I don’t like telling everybody how good we are. I want you to prove to everybody how good we are.’ They get where I am coming from. I love the polls because it is fun for the fans and hypes you up a little bit, but really you have to go out and take care of business. With the schedule we have we are going to be able to prove if we are as good as everybody thinks.”