Everyone knows that Omaha is the goal in college baseball. But the Southeastern Conference is full of teams with College World Series aspirations and it can grind a team down.
Arkansas assistant coach Todd Butler, the recruiting coordinator and hitting coach, thought he saw that tough grind showing up on faces as they left the stadium in Knoxville after a victory in the last series of the regular season. So he led a song on the bus.
“It’s supposed to be fun,” Butler said. “But college baseball -- particularly in the SEC -- is a marathon not a sprint. I thought our guys were worn out, exhausted. I thought the joy of playing the game had left them.”
So Butler trotted out a church song. Now, it’s tradition on the bus rides back after a victory.
“You got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in your heart,” Butler sang in the Baum dugout as the Hogs were about to head to Omaha on Tuesday.
“Down in your heart! Down in your heart!”
A couple of nearby Razorbacks turned and smiled.
“The first time we sang it in Tennessee,” said pitcher Brandon Moore. “Coach Butler thought we needed some joy back in us. Coach Butler has a lot of joy in him. We just have kept singing it. It’s getting louder and louder. It was pretty loud in Waco.
“I think Coach Butler is right. We did need some joy back in the way we play. You forget what it’s about sometimes, just playing for the love of the game.”
Moore does not lack for motivation, inspiration or joy. He’s similar to last year’s captain, catcher James McCann. Moore was among the last out of the dugout when the team did a dogpile in the infield after beating Baylor.
“I went to my knee in the dugout to say a prayer so I wasn’t out there so quick,” he said. “I wanted to give thanks to my Lord and Savior. I wanted to thank Him for all he had given us.”
Moore said the grind theme was evident early this season, the reason he ordered wrist bands on-line with a Bible verse, James 1:2-4.
“It fit what we were facing every day,” Moore said. “It’s, ‘Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’
“That’s pretty much the way it’s been for us. We just have to keep grinding.”
Moore said most of his teammates and coaches asked for a wrist band. And now he’s hearing from fans and friends. Head coach Dave Van Horn helped in a post-game interview on ESPN.
“I take off the wrist band and give it to someone in the bullpen just before I come in,” Moore said. “You can’t pitch with it on. But I forgot one game so I handed it to coach and he put it in his pocket.”
Van Horn said ESPN announcers asked about the bracelet. He pulled it out of his pocket for display.
“I was giving it back to Brandon, but he said keep it and I just wear it now,” Van Horn said. “I know Brandon’s got a few more.”
Lots more now. Moore said his initial purchase was 75. After Van Horn’s national publicity, his stock slipped to 25 and he’s ordered another batch of 225.
“I got a better deal this time,” he said. “If you go over 100, you get 100 free,” he said. “So I got the bonus. I’ll send them to anyone who wants one. My twitter account is @BrandonMoore30 and so I will be restocked in a few days.
“Really, this has been unbelievable. I had a box full for awhile. I know the Lord wanted me to do this, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with all of them until Coach Van Horn was on ESPN with them. I had been praying for the Lord to find a use for them and He did.”
Moore, sophomore from Van Buren, heard from McCann via text after Van Horn’s interview. He said he’s been getting congratulatory notes from McCann throughout the year.
“I still am so thankful for James,” Moore said. “He taught us how to play the game and how to lead last year. He’s not playing with this team anymore, but he’s still with us in all that we do that is just like he played the game. I know this pitching staff learned from him. How we play and pitch has a lot to do with what James taught all the young guys last year.
“I just feel blessed to have been around James and our coaches. Coach Butler is right, there is a lot of joy everywhere. You know there are always going to be downs in life. You are going to face tough things. But you have to stay focused on the joy, too. We want to keep singing about the joy and we are going to sing it loud.”