Are Hog Baseball Fans on Social Media Out of Control?

on 2024-06-04 17:44 PM

FAYETTEVILLE, Ar. (KNWA/KFTA) – Arkansas’ surprising exit from what was supposed to be a favorable regional field has triggered at least a portion of the fanbase that sees Baum-Walker Stadium as no longer an advantage in the road to Omaha. They want an explanation as to why unheralded Kansas State and Southeast Missouri State were able to send Dave Van Horn’s guys packing in front of the Razorbacks’ noisy, wildly partisan fans.

Will there be any staff changes, some are asking? Specifically what will be done to make sure that Arkansas doesn’t ever again enter the NCAA Tournament with the lowest team batting average in the field of 64? Some (gasp) have even suggested that it might be time for the legendary Van Horn to hang it up after 22 seasons on the Hill.

It this a form of madness that needs to be stopped in its tracks?

Some fans are striking back, suggesting that the complainers need to take a hike. Real fans don’t make ignorant comments like that. To them, social media platforms like X are ruining the college game. The sports world was much better when the Internet didn’t exist.

Sorry, I’m not buying it.

Way back in the 1950’s and 60’s, we had a form of social media in my hometown. It was called the East Side Cafe, the Morton Drug Store, the Frontier Lanes bowling alley and the front steps of every church in town after the Sunday service. Anywhere people gathered to hash out the highs and lows of the latest football, basketball or baseball game became a hot spot for public debate.

There was back slapping, smiles and handshakes when the news was good. If a loss was particularly painful things could get ugly in a hurry. The men around town didn’t always say nice things to players, coaches or parents.

My dad was the owner, publisher and editor of the weekly newspaper in my hometown. He witnessed and wrote about almost every sports event that took place there. From Little League baseball to the Last Frontier Rodeo and everything in between, he was there with his heavy box camera, notebook and pencil. More than anyone I’ve ever known, he had perspective on over the top fan expectations. It took some time but he finally made me understand that it wasn’t the terrible, evil thing I thought it to be.

To backtrack a bit, my dad was a natural born athlete. Some of my earliest memories are of watching him play fast pitch softball on summer nights in ballparks located in various small towns west of Lubbock, Texas toward the New Mexico border. This was a man’s game played for the high stakes of personal and community pride. There were fights. Sometimes brawls.

He could hit for power, but also move runners around the bases with well placed bunts, singles and doubles. He was fast, often going from first all the way to home plate on a ball hit into the holes of the outfield.

His defense was amazing. With his speed, he covered so much ground in centerfield it was hard to get anything past him. Trying to score on him from second on a base hit was a challenge. For me the biggest thrill was watching him cut down a runner at home plate on a one-hop throw from the outfield. “That danged Eddie Irwin throws a softball like a baseball,” the men around town would say.

Unfortunately for me I was not his equal as an athlete. Not even close. I had to bust my butt to do things that came naturally to him.

I sat the bench in Little League for two years before finally getting to play as a 12-year-old. He worked with me every day and I did become a decent pitcher and contact hitter that summer. My mom said that he never reacted when I made a mistake that brought critical remarks from some of the loud mouths in the stands. He let those people have their say.

I was a bench warmer and scout teamer in junior high football. I never missed a practice, but I didn’t play either. My dad was there when some lady said loudly as we warmed up before a game, “Look at that number 22. He’s too little to be out here. His mother needs to put him in the band.”

I finally broke through as a starter on the JV team as a freshman and thanks to a position coach named Fred Weaver, I started in 25 straight varsity games and made all district my senior year.

That could have been a fun season but we were short on upperclassmen and overall talent in the fall of ’65. The seniors of ’64 were gone and they were a solid bunch of athletes.

I’ve always had my mother’s temper and it boiled over one day when a man on the downtown square confronted me as I was walking with my date to a movie at the Rose Theater. He basically accused me of being lazy. We were losing, he said, because the ’65 team didn’t work hard in practice like those ’64 guys. I was a captain. It was my job to set an example for them and I had failed, he concluded.

I didn’t use any foul language but I let him know in no uncertain terms that since he was never around when we practiced he was not in a position to make such a comment. I also informed him that I had been a starter on that ’64 team that he loved so much and we actually worked harder every day in practice in ’65 because we had to. We did not possess the same level of talent. So he was full of baloney with his stupid accusations, I told him.

Word got back to my parents of my confrontation with this man. My mom reminded me that I was not raised to be disrespectful to my elders. She also pointed out that these type comments were common around town. People get upset when the football team loses.

“How do you think your dad feels when he hears people talking about his son like that,” she said. “He knows how hard you’ve worked. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s much worse for him. Someday when you’re a parent you’ll understand that.”

That night after supper I had a long conversation with my dad about fans and the comments some of them make to players, coaches and parents. It was causing me to question why I put on that uniform every Friday night, I told him.

I can’t remember his exact words in response, but I can come pretty close.

“When you decided to play did anyone promise you that the people around town would always respect your feelings win or lose? Back in junior high when you were nothing more than a blocking dummy what kept you going to practice every day? Was it so people wouldn’t say rude things about you? I don’t think so.”

“When you were a kid and you and your buddies would play football in the dirt street in front of our house did anybody around town make ugly comments about you,” he continued. “Of course not because your only audience was you and your friends.”

“Remember the night when you started for the first time wearing a black and gold uniform and what you said it was like playing in front of a real crowd?”

“How about the tackle for a loss you made on the first play of the Denver City game your junior year? You guys were on the road and the visitors stands were jammed. You told me the next day that when the crowd on our side erupted you knew it was because of what you had just done and there was no feeling like it.”

“You don’t get that feeling in a street football game with your pals. Sports takes on another dimension when fans are in the stands. Hometown fans. Men and women that you know.”

“Never overlook the role they fill. In those street football games, you played for yourself. In a varsity game, with the whole town watching, you play for all of us.”

“You only have a short time left as a player but you can still influence the outcome of your final games. Very quickly you will find yourself in a powerless position. As a fan all you can do is show up, watch and make noise.”

“In the locker-room, after a loss, you’re mad. Mad at yourself. Well, those fans are mad too. The only outlet for their frustration is anger and why are they angry? Because what you guys are doing on that field matters to them.”

‘Would it make you happy if they didn’t much care? If that man on the downtown square had said to you, “Yeah y’all lost last night but so what?” Would you have felt better?

The relationship between fans and players hasn’t changed since my dad and I had that talk more than a half century ago. The process is still the same.

When you put a team of players wearing cardinal and white on the field at Baum-Walker in an NCAA Regional thousands show up in person and tens of thousands watch on TV.

They love their Hogs and they want them to be number one. When they lose, like the players and coaches, those fans are hurting. A lot of them get mad. They post hurtful comments on social media.

But, as my dad said, do you want them to be okay with losing?

Sure it’s nutty to suggest that Van Horn should retire, but does anyone believe that he will read that stuff and quit? Will Hunter Yurachek decide that those people are right?

Of course not. So chill out.

Those fans that some of you think are so crazy will keep coming back, coming back just like the rest of you, hoping that next year will be the year when the Hogs win it all. When it finally happens what a celebration it will be.

(Last updated: 2024-06-04 17:44 PM)