This week University of Arkansas director of athletics Hunter Yurachek hoped to be touring the state with coaches and athletes drumming up support for Razorback sports. The current COVID-19 suspension of college athletics took care of that. Undaunted, the athletic department has launched a virtual version of the One Razorback Road Show on its website.
Yurachek wasted little time in getting to the heart of what almost every Hog fan wants to know right now. “I fully anticipate we will have a fall sports season when September rolls around,” Yurachek declared. “What that looks like and what sacrifice we will all have to make, that’s yet to be determined. It may involve wearing masks to sporting events. It may involve how we stand in line when we walk into a venue or how we get on our shuttle buses, how we get in line at concessions. We’ve got to be nimble. We’ve got to be flexible and if we get together this fall we’ve all got to do our part between now and then and we’ve got to understand that when we do get back together it’s going to look a little bit different.”
Baum-Walker Stadium is something else that will look different when the players return to campus perhaps as early as June 1. Construction on a $27 million, 49,000 square foot baseball performance facility is in full swing behind the right field fence.
“It (Baum-Walker) is a special, special place and it’s just getting better,” Yurachek noted. “We’re gonna eventually move the visiting team bullpen over to where the Hog Pen is and the home field advantage that we have is just going to be further enhanced. “
As for head baseball coach Dave Van Horn, the current shutdown had not eased his work load. Van Horn is wrestling with a way to make the best use of what will almost certainly be an expanded roster with players allowed to repeat their 2020 eligibility in 2021 if they so desire. Also a shortened MLB draft is expected bring some draft eligible players back to school when normally they would have signed. Combine that will another outstanding recruiting class, with more of those players likely choosing to enroll in college because of the limited draft and Van Horn could be coaching one of the deepest, most talented rosters he’s ever had.
“That’s what’s on my mind most right now,” Van Horn admitted. “Trying to take care of the guys that are in the program and trying to be fair. I think we’re gonna have a team next year that is a mix of old and young but we’re gonna make this work.”
One Razorback who will not be returning is junior outfielder Heston Kjerstad who is projected as high as the 7th overall pick in the draft. Van Horn said that while fans understand the talent level that Kjerstad brought the the field each game many are probably unaware of what an outstanding student he was academically.
“I’m gonna guess and say he’s probably a 3.8 (GPA) student. I don’t think he quite had a 4.0 but he might tell you different,” Van Horn said with a chuckle. “I truly believe if we were still playing, we’re going into the last week of the season, I would tell you that Heston would have 22, 23 home runs. I would say he’d probably be hitting about .370. I feel like if he stays healthy he’ll be playing baseball for a long time.”
“It’s about all I have to look forward to right now,” Kjerstad said of the draft. “Right now we should be playing one of our last SEC series on the road. But we’re not and it’s just all focused on the draft. Playing baseball is always nice. You can go out there and forget about what’s going on. It’s a little bit of an escape. So not having that, there’s definitely a lot of time to think about going forward and all that. So I’m just playing it by ear. Working to get better at my craft and let’s see what happens.”
What’s the first thing Kjerstad will buy with his signing bonus?
“I don’t think I’m gonna buy anything,” Kjerstad answered. “I still have my truck that my parents gave me from high school and it’s still running. College, financially, really taught me how to save my money. I’ll probably put it (the signing bonus) aside and save it for a rainy day.”
The first Virtual One Razorback Road Show ended with several Razorback cheerleaders calling the Hogs from various locations. The next virtual Road Show is set for May 19th and will feature, among others, men’s basketball coach Eric Musselman.