When the Arkansas baseball team takes the field for the season opener Friday afternoon against Western Illinois, fans will see an increase of local Northwest Arkansas and River Valley players on the roster.
In total, seven players on the team are from the 5NEWS viewing area, almost 20 percent of the roster.
The most notable is senior captain Matt Vinson from Alma. Vinson started all four games in the College World Series last year and had four hits. He will be counted on heavily as coach Dave Van Horn plans to have Vinson towards the top of the hitting lineup.
“I want to do what I can to help the team win,” said Vinson. “I’ve taken more of a leadership role and helping the new guys get used to the SEC.”
Another veteran to help the youngsters is junior pitcher Brandon Moore from Van Buren. He pitched in 29 games in 2012 and made two relief appearances in the College World Series. Moore is a hometown favorite for Hogs fans.
“It's kind of surreal because in high school they didn't care a whole lot,” said Moore. “Now that you are here, they do.”
Sophomore pitcher Chris Oliver is from Farmington and went to Shiloh Christian. Oliver pitched in 11 games last season and expects to see his duties increase this year.
“It's a huge honor and a privilege,” said Oliver. “It's exciting to see people from my hometown come out and you can hear them yelling when I take the mound."
One youngster who will have to wait a year to hear fans yelling his name is Blake Baxendale from Heritage. Baxendale is redshirting 2013 because of Tommy John surgery. But everyone already expects big things because of his older brother DJ Baxendale’s success as a Hog.
“I’m the local guy and everyone knows my name with my brother being here three years, said Baxendale. “It's something that I take in and want to represent the University and Northwest Arkansas well.”
Two players are new to the team due to transfers. Junior Mike Sisco from Fayetteville and Sophomore Jalen Beeks from Prairie Grove both transferred in this year.
Rounding out the seven local players is Tyler Spoon of Van Buren. Spoon redshirted last year and is one of the many Hogs Dave Van Horn can plug into the lineup if any starters begin to slump.
The depth for the Hogs is great this year, due in large part to the influx of local talent.
Friday’s game with Western Illinois is set to start at 3:05pm.