The players on the 1979 Razorback baseball team are nearing, or are in, their 60’s now. They are long removed from the glory days when they put Arkansas baseball on the map with a runner up finish in the College World Series. The 2009 Diamond Hogs are just into their 30’s with some still playing major league baseball. But 2010 MLB first rounder Zack Cox said it doesn’t matter the age. Both groups have two big things in common. They are each Razorbacks forever and they will never forget what it was/is like to play the game.
“I still get in there and hit in the cage and feel like I can still do it a little bit,” Cox admitted. “But any player, I’m sure guys from the ’79 team, they miss playing. I miss playing. It’s just memories now.”
Cox was a two-time All American third baseman at Arkansas. He seemed to be a “can’t miss” major league prospect. Injuries thwarted his dream,
“On back-to-back days I got hit with 95 and 93 mph fastballs,” Cox explained. “I had a concussion that affected my depth perception.”
Cox also battled back and hamstring issues throughout his minor league career. After discussing the situation with his wife, who is from Bentonville, he decided to move on to the next chapter in his life.
“I’d like to be a college batting coach someday but for now I like what I’m doing,” Cox stressed.
Cox is currently coaching privately in Northwest Arkansas instructing kids ages eight through seventeen.
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn got his first two College World Series wins from the ’09 team but he remembers that season as a roller coster ride, telling reporters, “That team, we won our first eight conference games. We lost our last eight conference games. Then we got hot at the end of the season,”
Legendary Arkansas baseball Coach Norm De Briyn recalls the ’79 team as a group of kids who had great chemistry with each other but a headache to coach.
“Off the field I didn’t know what was going on. I had an idea but I didn’t want to know,” DeBriyn deadpanned. “I remember (Marc) Brumble was a team captain. I’m talking to him and he said, ‘Just let ’em play.’ “
“We went to Texas Tech,” DeBriyn continued. “We had our first flight of the season. I said, ‘We got to behave. Got a curfew. Blah, blah, blah.’ We’re flying out the next morning and they went out and stayed out all night.”
“No comment,” Bill Bakewell, a senior pitcher on that team, said with a sheepish grin when asked about some of the off the field issues DeBriyn mentioned. “My kids might be watching this.”
DeBriyn offered another example of what it was like to coach that team: “Against Pepperdine (game one of the College World Series) I told (pitching coach) Tom Hilton, “Get (Steve) Krueger’s charting. He’s going in, in the second inning and (Rich) Erwin will pitch the next game.’ Tom looks at me and says, ‘You tell him.’ So we get out of that inning, we’re down 3-0 and I told Erwin, ‘You haven’t thrown that many pitches and they’ve got a lot of left-handed hitters and you’re going to pitch the next game.’ He said ‘NO.’ “
“We had to go behind the dugout to settle that,” DeBriyn said, as the story continued. “We did settle it and lucky for us and lucky for me we won 5-4. Erwin pitches the next game against Arizona and he sitcks it up their butts. At the end of the game he hands me the ball and he says, ‘HERE.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ “
All American outfielder Kevin McReynolds was a freshman on that team. He noted that DeBriyn more than held his own against some of his more independent minded teammates.
“I remember a day when he had the outfielders out by the centerfield fence,” McReynolds said with a smile. “He was firing fungos at us from about twenty feet. Look, you want to see that with a coach. When you’re not doing your job or your team’s not doing what they’re supposed to be doing you want a coach to call you out.”
There is no disputing the legacy that team left behind. The ’79 Razorbacks put Arkansas baseball on the map and to Johnny Ray, an All American second baseman that season, it is amazing to come back and see how far the program has come since then.
“This is unbelievable,” Ray raved. “It is what it is. State of the art. Top notch facilities so you’re gonna get top notch talent to come here and it’s just great for the University.”
“This is incredible, what they’ve got now,” McReynolds echoed. “It’s as good as any triple A facility around the country. It’s a far cry from what it was back then.”
“It all worked out,’ DeBriyn concluded. “It was a great team. I knew McReynolds was gonna be a big timer but I didn’t know Johnny Ray was gonna be the kind of big leaguer he was and then Larry Wallace was so solid and we had Ronn Reynolds. Gosh he could throw the ball from behind the plate to second base about two feet off the ground. That group was a starting point. It opened Frank Broyles eyes and after that we were getting more to work with.”
And the two reunions? Cox summed that up when asked about what the weekend meant to him: “It makes me feel bad for not keeping up with all of my teammates. The two years I was here we grew to love each other. I’m sure I’ll keep up with them better now.”
Cox also enjoyed mixing with the ’79 team.
“When I was here you heard a lot about those guys but now you get a chance to put a face with a name,” Cox beamed. “You feel like ten years was a long time ago but hearing their stories was awesome.”
While the ’79 players have seen the Razorback baseball program grow beyond what they could have imagined Cox said the changes in just the last ten years is eye opening.
“These days it’s like if we don’t make it to Omaha every year, we are at least in contention to make it every year. In baseball the Razorbacks have built a dynasty. What the Razorbacks have been able to do as a baseball program, to me, is as impressive as any in the country.”