Hogs-Aggies; No Mystery to Each Other

Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn and his counterpart at Texas A&M go way back. Ray Childress was an assistant coach under Van Horn at Texarkana College, Northwestern State and Nebraska. Two years after Van Horn left Nebraska for Arkansas, Childress was named the Aggies head coach. They have always been close but their relationship changed a bit when A&M joined the SEC in 2013. 

"We're friends. We play 'em. We'll be friends as long as we're alive, I feel like," Van Horn said of his former longtime pitching coach, "but when the weekend comes we don't really talk to each other a whole lot. I haven't talked to him yet. (this week) He hasn't called me and I haven't called him. I'll see him on Thursday."

Arkansas senior outfielder Jake Arledge admitted he had no knowledge of Van Horn's past relationship with Childress when quizzed by reporters on Tuesday. "I'm sure Van Horn's friends with a lot of guys," Arledge acknowledged. "He's been around this game so long. But Thursday when the game starts I betcha they're not gonna be good friends."

Arkansas shortstop Jax Biggers said he has some good friends at A&M which is about 100 miles north of his hometown of Missouri City, Texas. "They'll be at the game," he predicted.

So who will they be pulling for?

"They'll root for me but I'm sure they're pulling for A&M to win," Biggers answered with a grin. "I've been in that student section when I was a kid. It'll be different hearing 'em talk to me. They don't mean it when the game's over. They're just trying to get in your head."

Another Razorback who will have friends and family at the game is Biggers' roommate, veteran pitcher Dominic Taccolini, who is from nearby Sugarland, Texas.

"I'm not too big a fan of A&M," Taccolini emphasized. "I've never really understood the Aggie culture. My sophomore year when we were playing there they (the fans) were on me. I had a girlfriend at the time and they were saying her name the whole time. It was a little rattling. You shut 'em up by pitching well."

Arkansas will also have several recruits and signees at the ballpark this weekend. The two teams, in fact, go head to head every year in recruiting.

"Probably just about everyone we get and they don't and vice versa," Van Horn said of the battle for talent the two team wage annually. "When they got in the league we knew we were going to have to get another region to jump into. We've done that by going more into Illinois and some of those states. They've done a good job of getting their share of kids."

As in most years this particular series between the Hogs and Aggies, the last of the regular season, is big for both teams.

"I'd like to be a little closer to first (place) but you know, A&M's right there with us," Van Horn observed. "Basically we're tied. Whoever wins two out of three between us two will finish in front of the other one."

Actually the head coach was a little off on his math. After losing a road series at Ole Miss last weekend while the Razorbacks were taking two of three from Vanderbilt, the Aggies sit a game and a half behind the Hogs in the SEC West and would need a sweep to pass them. Still, as Van Horn put it, "We're just going to go down there and play."

How do the two teams match up?

"They've got a really deep pitching staff," Van Horn acknowledged. "Really good bullpen and that's probably the advantage they have over us. Just a little bit more experience in that pen."

The Hogs would appear to have the advantage at the plate with a slightly better team batting average and 25 more home runs. As always fielding could end up being an issue and Arkansas has the edge there as well.

Van Horn and Childress have gone head to head 14 times since 2005. Arkansas has a slight advantage in those games at 8-6. Van Horn, who was recruited out of junior college by both A&M and Arkansas, said he never thinks about how his life would have been different if he'd picked the Aggies.

"I didn't want to be an Aggie. I wanted to be a Razorback," he said with a smile. "I never think about that."

Game one of the series starts Thursday at 6:30 in A&M's Blue Bell Park.


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