When playing for the College of Central Florida last spring in the Junior College Baseball World Series, All-American Caleb Cali was not sure of his next destination.
Cali (6-3, 240), a corner infielder who started his college career at Florida State, caught Arkansas on television playing in the College World Series in Omaha and a few months later ended up in Fayetteville.
“It has been awesome,” Cali said. “This place is unbelievable. My first year here, I have been really welcomed. I think our team is really close and just in general about the city and my roommates and everything like that, it’s been a really good welcome. It’s been awesome.”
Cali endeared himself to his new teammates Monday with a two-out, RBI single that lifted the Cardinal team to a 6-5 win over the White Monday in the first game of the Razorbacks Fall World Series.
It capped a three-run bottom of seventh and final inning for the Cardinal, who fell behind 5-3 when freshman Mason Neville launched a grand slam in the top of the seventh.
Kendall Diggs’ two-run single tied the game and allowed for Cali’s heroics.
“Obviously we were kind of hoping to close it out in the top of the seventh, but they put a few good at bats up there and we did our best to fight back with two outs in the end,” Cali said. “So it was good.”
McLaughlin, who came to Arkansas from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, hit a solo homer in the second inning to give his team a 1-0 edge.
It stayed that way until the lefty-swinging McLaughlin’s two-run blast in the bottom of the sixth to put the Cardinal up 3-0.
Jayson Jones sacrifice fly cut that deficit to 3-1 before Neville’s grand slam surged the White ahead 5-3.
Cali hit .438 with 17 home runs with 77 RBIs, 22 doubles and 6 triples at the College of Central Florida after spending the 2021 campaign at Hillsborough College (Fla.) Community College.
Having two years of eligibility left, Cali has mostly played third this fall and has been lauded by Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn for his at bats in fall workouts.
“It’s been going really well,” Cali said. “I have been seeing the ball really well and I am just trying to to take it one day at a time. Just trying to have quality at bats for my team. That is kind of what I am focused on.”
The teams had scored just four runs entering the seventh inning where the two teams then combined for seven runs.
“Our pitching staff has been throwing really, really well and obviously, as you could see today, they shut us down – both teams mostly until the seventh inning there for the most part.
“That’s even with most of our older guys shut down at this point so that was a lot of the younger guys. I think that kind of shows how much depth we have and obviously guys like (Jackson) Wiggins, Hunter Hollan and Hagen Smith are really throwing it really well.”
Cali’s journey to Arkansas was a somewhat surprising one.
“It was crazy,” Cali said. “I was at junior college l last year and I spent the entire last season uncommitted. I didn’t get reached out to by Arkansas until I was at the World Series in Colorado.
“Coach Cullen Smith had seen me play on a live stream and then Coach Van Horn called me the next day and that kind of got the ball rolling.”
He chose Arkansas over several other options
“I was just trying to really feel out where I wanted to go,” Cali said. “ I took a few visits here and there and all that kind of stuff, but once I got here, it is hard to turn this place down.”
He admits to seeing the success Arkansas has had with tranfers.
“Once I was trying to figure out my stuff, we finished playing ball and the College World Series was on that following week so obviously was watching those games and learning the back stories of those guys, guys like Michael Turner transferring in and making an impact. Obviously that always helps as much as possible.”
Cali is one of 10 new junior college transfers has on this year’s Arkansas roster.
“A lot of us honestly are from juco ball and I think it makes it honestly easier for us to connect in the locker room because we have all had the same journey. It is like a first thing that when we walk in the door we already have a connection with most of the guys here.”
Arkansas will continue the best two of three Fall World Series with a Tuesday game at 1 p.m. with a Thursday game scheduled if needed.
Photo by John D. James