Once he hit the transfer portal San Francisco sixth year senior catcher Robert Emery didn’t need much convincing to decide where he would play his final season of college baseball. The University of Arkansas baseball program under head coach Dave Van Horn pretty much sold itself.
“It seems perennially there’s a regional in Fayetteville,” Emery noted. “That’s a special thing so just knowing their reputation for having a winning culture, having the best fans in college baseball and the best facilities in college baseball, it was a really easy place to be interested in.”
Not long after Emery committed to Arkansas good friend A.J. Lewis, a fifth year senior to be at Eastern Kentucky, let him know that he was entering the portal as well.
“He texted me and said, (Arkansas pitching) ‘Coach (Matt) Hobbs just talked to me and I’m not sure about it.’ I took a second to think about it,” Emery remembered, “and I was like, every team needs two catchers. Who would you rather go through an entire year with and who could make you the best player that you could be? If they’re bringing in another catcher I would one thousand percent rather have A. J. on my team than have him be someone we’re playing against.”
Not long after that Emery got a text from Arkansas hitting coach Nate Thompson about another matter. Emery fired a text back at him about Lewis which read, A.J. Lewis. One of my best friends. A totally special individual. I’m going to do everything I can to get this guy here.
Emery immediately got a phone call from Thompson who indicated that the coaches wanted to bring in a second transfer catcher and they wanted to pick his brain about Lewis. A few weeks later both friends signed with Arkansas.
“It’s a pretty unique thing and I feel like it’s worked out as a best case scenario for both us us,” Emery concluded.
Both were off to a hot start at the plate when the 2020 season ended abruptly. Emery says it’s not his impression that Arkansas coaches are bringing them in to select one as the starting catcher and let the other one sit.
“I think it would be a waste of either of our talents if one of us was under utilized so definitely for us to play deep into June that would be a very good thing for both of us to spell each other defensively and offensively and not miss a beat,” Emery stressed. “Also A.J. can play all over. I can play 1st base, left field. So I don’t think there’s any concern on the part of either of us about one of us getting pigeonholed.”
Emery was excited to learn that the NCAA has voted to allow college football and basketball players to return to their campuses for voluntary workouts as of June 1. Even though there was no mention of other sports in the decision Emery is hopeful that there will soon be good news for college baseball players.
“I’ve communicated to the coaches that as soon as things open up at all I’m gonna pack my car and head out there,” Emery revealed. “I only have a year out there and I’m really hoping to maximize my time and get up to speed with the team as quickly as possible. Hopefully I can get out to campus and the team can get back out there an least by July 1st so we can at least have some type of summer ball or training or anything just to get us back into a routine.”
About the possibility of extra exhibition games in the fall or maybe even a few such games in August to make up for all the lost playing time college players have experienced Emery said, “The way I look at it I’d be about 300 at bats into the season. I’d be pretty dialed in at the plate. So I would welcome any opportunity to make that up.”
Emery has never been to Baum-Walker Stadium and for now all he has to go on is the recollection of a summer league teammate who told him about a weekend he experienced there in the early part of the season.
“It was brisk, probably 35 or 40 degrees out, he said, and there were eight, ten thousand fans on the weekend,” Emery recalled. “He said they played a four game set and there was no atmosphere that he’d ever played in that was better.”
It will be a while but Emery is looking forward to experiencing atmosphere for himself.