Attending a baseball game at Baum Stadium is an event in itself.
When an NCAA Regional comes to town, it gets amped up to a whole new level.
Arkansas hosted familiar foes in Missouri State, Oklahoma State, and Oral Roberts University at the regional. The Hogs have history with each, but Missouri State is now a much larger rival than the Missouri Tigers, and in the post season, there is a lot of history, including the Hogs hosting and winning a Super Regional slated to be played in Springfield but was moved to Baum because of a scheduling conflict.
Weather was going to be a factor all weekend, but nobody knew just how big of a factor it would be.
Friday, both games went smooth, with the opening game between the Bears and Cowboys ending on a walk off two-run home run, sending MSU to face the winner of Arkansas and ORU, who was highly regarded as the toughest four seed in the tournament. Facing their ace and a powerful lineup that includes Matt Whatley, a catcher expected to go in the first round of the MLB draft only a few days later. It was one of the largest crowds in Baum Stadium history, with almost 12,000 staying around for the Hogs winner.
When the Hogs dropped a game late Saturday on errors, it meant they would have to face the battle of winning three games in a row to advance. After taking down ORU in a rain-delayed early Sunday game, the Hogs now faced the opportunity to win two in a row over rival MSU, with the first game scheduled to start later that afternoon.
Weather did not cooperate. To be clear, the weather most assuredly did not want this game played. It poured for hours, and then, a window of hope. Arkansas was going to get the game in with hopes of forcing a final the following day.
The game was a marathon, with multiple rain delays. At 1:30 a.m. Monday, the public address announcer told the crowd they were now officially the last baseball game being played in America. It was a duel of the bats, with 16 total pitchers seeing the mound, and Razorback Head Coach Dave Van Horn taking to the field to protest the umpires wanting to cover the field for an additional delay at near 2:45 a.m., after the Razorbacks had been forced to pitch and field in the rain. The protest worked, and the Razorback scored four in the eighth, thanks in part to a Jared Gates blast to give them the lead. They would hold on for the 11-10 win and force a deciding game.
Monday was a pitching duel, and Missouri State was flawless, holding off the Hogs for a one-run win and a trip to the Super Regionals.
However, this was about more than baseball. This was about history, about memories that will never be forgotten, and about a team that had the largest turnaround in a power five conference.
It was a bout rising stars and those who rallied after the best two returning pitchers from an underachieving team a year ago went down with injury.
But more than anything, it was a chance to say “I was there. I was there at 3:10 a.m. when the final out was made and we all slogged in our victory march to our vehicles.”
In the press room, it was too late for daily publications. When the press conferences were over, the sportscasters stayed to go live on local morning shows. It was an event to remember, and Arkansas hosted well, drawing the largest attendance of any NCAA Regional Tournament in the nation.
Whether you were there in person or online, you will never forget how the Great American Pastime captivated you through the deluge of rain and the fatigue of time so you could experience one of the greatest games played at Baum Stadium.