Arkansas’ baseball team had about the same reaction when the word came down from the SEC and NCAA about the jarring premature end of the season due to the national emergency over the COVID-19 virus.
“They were just in shock,” Dave Van Horn said Wednesday morning on a teleconference.
In what ended up being the last game of the 2020 season last week, there was about as much side discussion about the crisis as it was the game going on so the situation was not completely unexpected.
“You start getting wind of it after the win over Grand Canyon and next day we’re supposed to fly out to Starkville,” Van Horn said about the opening SEC series against Mississippi State. “Then we’re put on hold and we pretty much knew what was going to happen there.
“We kinda knew it was going to go away.”
But there was still a glimmer of hope until Tuesday when the NCAA and the SEC slammed the door shut on all sports for awhile.
Van Horn normally stands up to address the team and assistant coaches are scattered around. Not this time. He brought them to the front to stand with him.
“I wanted them to see what I was going to see in the players’ faces,” Van Horn said. “It was tough. It was really hard to look at the players and their reactions.”
All sports function on a routine schedule that becomes a part of both coaches and players. Baseball plays so many games at such a fast pace that routine is a necessity. The Razorbacks pretty much figured it was just a matter of time.
“Behind closed doors we were thinking we’re done,” Van Horn said. “When are they just going to tell us this is over? You have to train for a certain date. Hitters have to swing the bat nearly every day.”
All that’s over and it’s not coming back for this season.
Which means star players Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin and Casey Opitz won’t be back for the Hogs whenever things resume.
““I haven’t discussed anything with them as far as that goes,” Van Horn said. “I just know how highly those guys are going to be sought after in the draft and the kind of money that’s going to go out there to them.”
A couple of others may leave, too, but Van Horn wasn’t naming any names with those guys.
“There are a couple that are iffy,” he said.
With just 16 games played (and the Hogs’ record will remain 11-5 for all time), this team was starting to get things straightened out and the frustration slipped through at times in Van Horn’s voice.
Especially Kjerstad and Martin.
“He was starting to heat up,” Van Horn said of Kjerstad. “He would have hit mid-20 or 30 home runs this year.”
And Martin had finally matured to the point he was handling some early-season adversity and turning things around.
“He was really starting to come out of it,” Van Horn said. “His demeanor when he wasn’t having a good day was getting so much better. I think he was getting ready to take off.”
Others were developting, too.
“Some guys having great years,” Van Horn said. “I really wanted I wanted Christian Franklin to keep developing.”
There will be changes to the roster. There is some accepted expectation that eligibility will be restored to some players, but Van Horn admitted that’s going to be a tricky area.
The not knowing may be the biggest problem of all for Van Horn.
“There’s so many unknowns right now,” Van Horn said.