Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn was just about to go to sleep last Wednesday night when he got a text from a former Razorback star.

It was Heston Kjerstad, letting Van Horn know he has just gotten some big news from the Baltimore Orioles (94-56), who have the best record in the American League.

“He said ‘hey coach I wanted you to know that I got called up to the big leagues,’” Van Horn said. “That’s all it said. I was fired up. I was getting tired because it was about 9:30, had been a long day and that woke me up pretty good.

“I sent him back a nice text and he responded.”

Van Horn and his staff went to Houston on Monday night to see a trio of former Razorbacks – the Orioles’ Kjerstad and catcher/first baseman James McCann and injured Houston relief pitcher Ryne Stank.

Designated hitter Kjerstad was 2 of 5 with a pair of singles and McCann entered the game at first base late in a contest the Orioles won 8-7 on a 3-run homer by Cedric Mullins in the top of the month.

Kjerstad, who has been a pinch hitter or designated hitter in the four games he has played, is now 3 of 9 with a homer and two singles in his young career.

It’s been a long journey to the majors for Kjerstad, whose 2020 Arkansas season (6 homers, 20 RBIs) was limited to 16 games when the covid pandemic hit.

Kjerstad was taken as the second overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft, but missed all of the 2021 due to myocarditis and had an abbreviated 2022 campaign slot between Class A and high A.

He had played 46 AA games and 76 AAA ones this season and combined to hit .303 with 21 homers,  55 RBIs and 5 stolen bases while scoring 87 runs with 29 doubles and 8 triples before his call up.

“He didn’t get to play there for awhile, Van Horn said. “I have said this a hundred times – ‘if we had played that 2020 season, I truly believe that Heston have have had a chance to win the Golden Spikes.

“I think he would have hit 25 to 30 home runs. His power was unbelievable. His (batting) eye was unbelievable. We couldn’t get him out in the fall. He hit .550 against our pitching..and he was one of two or three best hitters to ever come through these place.”

Kjerstad was officially called up on Thursday, pinch hitting in the eighth inning of a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay and fanned in his only plate appearance.

He would also fan in his first plate appearance on Friday as the Orioles’ starting designated hitter, but then showed what all the fuss is about.

Kjerstad drilled a 418-foot homer run over the right field fence off Zac Eflin in the sixth inning.

It was a blast that doubled as Baltimore’s first hit of the night and his first MLB hit.

“It was surreal obviously,” Kjerstad said. “I just wanted to get that first hit out of the way and to see it be a homer and go out of the yard is really amazing. It is truly something that you dream of and just great to experience that.”

Kjerstad was thrilled his homer came at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, which had a crowd of 43,349 fans in attendance.

“You wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else,” Kjerstad said. “It was all packed out and those fans really showed some love to the team. To be able to thrive in that atmosphere was a lot of fun for me.”

Kjerstad was able to retrieve the prized ball.

“I’ve got to sign a bat and a couple of other things, but it is worth to get the ball back,” Kjerstad said. “I appreciate the fan getting that back to me.”

Van Horn talked of Kjerstad’s blast after the Razorbacks’ Friday Night Fall Baseball Classic, where the homer was announced right after it happened.

“That’s awesome and it doesn’t surprise me in his first big-league start,” Van Horn said. “I am sure it is going to be the first of many.”

Baltimore clinched a playoff berth in the MLB playoffs when Texas lost to Cleveland and ensured both the Orioles and Tampa Bay had clinched wild card berths.

The first-place Orioles are 2 1/2 games ahead of Tampa Bay in the AL East.

“We are hoping he gets to stay during the playoffs,” Van Horn said.

Photo courtesy of Dave Van Horn