FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Ask an Arkansas baseball fan a few months ago who was the most frustrating player on the Diamond Hogs to watch, and the most common answer would have been Chad Spanberger.
Ask an Arkansas baseball fan now who is the most fun player on the team to watch, and the most common answer would be Spanberger.
Life comes at you fast.
Arkansas’ junior first baseman has had a turnaround for the ages. A year ago, he was in a 3-way timeshare at first with Cullen Gassaway and Austin Catron. Occasionally he’d get a start in the outfield, but his numbers simply were not there. Coach Dave Van Horn couldn’t afford to keep Spanberger in the lineup regularly.
This was Spanberger’s line by the end of the year:
2016: 23 hits in 102 at-bats, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 13 BB, 40 K
This is Spanberger’s line now:
2017: 43 hits in 137 at-bats, 9 HR, 42 RBI, 14 BB, 35 K
Every single stat has improved.
“I’d say something clicked,” Spanberger said. “Definitely swinging too hard (last year). You don’t have to swing hard to hit the ball hard.”
And, boy, does he hit the ball hard.
If anyone is still awake in Alma, can you pick up @chadspanberger's home run for us?
It just landed. pic.twitter.com/IsJU5e8nWj
— Razorback Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) April 8, 2017
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Spanberger is jacked. He has the strength of a professional hitter already. Arkansas doesn’t measure the home runs its players hit, but Spanberger said there was an estimation on that one.
“They said it went 458 or something like that.”
For reference, because that video clip is somewhat fast and dark, here is the Milwaukee Brewers’ Travis Shaw hitting a 458-footer out of Miller Park.
Travis Shaw of the @Brewers launched this 458-foot pic.twitter.com/DETLEPS8oM
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) April 21, 2017
It’s fitting Spanberger is from a place named after a rock. Granite City, Ill., is where Spanberger calls home. It’s just a few miles outside St. Louis. Only about 29,500 people live in the town. There are about 2,000 students in the high school. It’s not large. And not a lot people make it out.
“Either they (students at Granite City High School) don’t go to college or they go to a junior-college in our town,” Spanberger said. “It’s definitely blue-collar and working class. We have a steel mill in our city and that’s pretty much the whole city. If it wasn’t there, a lot of people would probably leave.”
Including his folks. Spanberger’s father works in the industry, which is currently doing OK, but is somewhat temperamental. Spanberger’s brother is about to have a child. They’re not rich people. And leaving the city was tough for the junior.
But Arkansas felt like home. Fayetteville isn’t large. It’s surrounded by rural areas. Most of Arkansas is blue-collar. The fit was perfect when Spanberger visited as a junior and committed. His heart remains back in the Midwest, even if his mind is here (“I love the South. So much better than the Midwest,” he said).
Like most college baseballers, the pro ranks are a desire. Spanberger is a junior, so he’s eligible when the draft comes around this summer. As to whether he’ll leave, hard for him to say. It’s the middle of the season, after all. Arkansas is in first place in the SEC halfway through league play. No one saw that coming.
Plus, simply put, he’s having fun. It’s a far cry from last year when the Razorbacks were in last in the SEC. Guys were getting down on themselves by the end. And Spanberger keeps in regular contact with Clark Eagan, one of those players on the team from last year, and Eagan is going through the minor-league trials right now.
“Actually me and Clark were talking last week after the Saturday game,” Spanberger said. “He texted me, I guess he’s struggling a little bit. Just have to get through it. Minor league ball, obviously it’s a grind. Especially on your own.”
Spanberger paused. He’s reflective. Enjoying it while it lasts and still thinking about the future. About his family. About his teammates.
But loving it.
Easier to do now on this tear.
Chad Spanberger…First 18 games: .194/.288/.355, 3 HR, 10 RBIsLast 17 games: .413/.482/.747, 6 HR, 32 RBIs
That seems good. (Had to fix)
— Andrew Hutchinson (@NWAHutch) April 20, 2017
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