FAYETTEVILLE — Precocious, not immature, should define Casey Martin’s 2018 freshman University of Arkansas baseball season.
The then rookie third baseman from Lonoke hit .345. He swatted 13 home runs with 49 RBI and successfully stole bases 8 for 9 starring for a Razorbacks national runner-up team at the College World Series in Omaha.
Yet Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn, recalling rancorous reactions by the 2018 freshman flash during times gone awry, asserts coaching a far more mature, stable sophomore in 2019.
Martin has needed to keep a cool head. His batting average dropped 53 points to .293. He’s struck out 74 times to last year’s 64 and his errors up from 15 to 23 moved from third base to shortstop.
“I think Casey is staying pretty strong,” Van Horn said. “Last year he wouldn’t have been able to handle this. He’d have gone crazy. He’s not throwing helmets or doing anything distracting the team. As long as we’re winning he’s fine.”
These 46-18 SEC Co-West champions Hogs are winning. More importantly they are advancing on to Omaha for Saturday night’s start of the College World Series against Florida State.
Certainly Martin is fine with that as a lifelong Arkie helping the only Razorbacks teams to successive seasons ending in Omaha.
“It’s a dream come true,” Martin said. “It’s more than I can ever ask for, like a kid with big dreams making it happen.”
Of course it’s easy to be fine with the Razorbacks Omaha bound.
Martin’s mettle withstood 2019 times when not only he but the whole team skidded. That’s when he had to lead even as some stats lagged.
“I play the game with a lot of emotion and sometimes let it get the best of me like I a lot of people do,” Martin said. “Everybody we had last year helped me with that. Now a lot of those guys are gone but they help me remember that a lot of these young guys need a leader to look up to and understand that when things go wrong there’s a certain way you’ve got to act to carry yourself and help the team.”
Not that whiffing with men on base or run-scoring error is easy to shrug.
“Yeah, some days are harder than others,” Martin said. “But I think at the end of the day you’ve got to remember the bigger purpose in why we’re playing. It’s not just for me but it’s for these guys and the fans and trying to help each other get back to Omaha.”
His teammates reinforce Martin’s role getting them there. Martin’s home runs and RBI are up, 15 and 56. He’s the fastest Razorback running routine grounders into singles while 10 for 12 on steals.
For a sizable surge between a slow start and the late-season slump from SEC Tournament through the Fayetteville Regional that he snapped during the Super Regional, Martin seemed the Razorback few pitchers could retire.
The sophomore struggle for consistency is easily explained says junior center fielder Dominic Fletcher. Though he ended up hitting just three points off his freshman year .291 to .288, Fletcher recalled sophomore stretches he thought he would never get a hit.
“I went through the same thing last year,” Fletcher said. “You show up after having a great freshman year and it’s like you are the guy in the lineup that everyone has marked on the list. So you get pitched a little differently. It happens.”
Afield Martin anguished as the errors upped moving from third to short.
“It’s been a little rough this year,” Martin said. “A big change from third, obviously. I wish it had been better, but I will work on it. I will get better.”
He’s still exceptional given his range to snag what others never reach. Sometimes that leads to a no good deed goes unpunished throwing error off what otherwise would have been an uncontested hit.
“Yeah, there are balls I get to that a lot of people don’t but then it’s usually the really easy ones I usually make mistakes on,” Martin said. “And that’s on me. I’ve got a long ways to go still.”
Well, the Hogs don’t go Omaha long without Martin at short, asserts their best pitcher, 12-1 ace Isaiah Campbell.
“When I’m on the mound, I don’t want anybody else at shortstop other than Casey Martin,” Campbell said. “I know he’s going to make the plays when we need them. He’s done it all year. There are balls in the hole for plays that I don’t think that any other shortstop in the country would make and he makes them.”