FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas outfielder Tyler Spoon sat in coach Dave Van Horn’s office during the middle of the 2012 season and was hit with a surprising question.
How would he feel if he was moved to the active roster, ending what was scheduled to be a redshirt season?
Van Horn was working with a lineup struggling at the plate. He thought Spoon, a Van Buren native, could help solve some of the problems. So he pondered the move.
“Of course I wanted to play,” Spoon said earlier this week, looking back on the conversation. “Even if it meant losing my redshirt. Whatever was best for the team. … If it would’ve helped the team I would’ve done it in a heartbeat.”
In the end, Van Horn opted not to play Spoon. The way he tells the story, Spoon’s body language in the meeting was an indication he wasn’t ready. So it didn’t take long for Van Horn to talk himself out of the thought and carry on with the season.
The decision has paid off for the Razorbacks (4-1) either way as they prepare for this weekend’s three-game series against Evansville, which is scheduled to begin – weather permitting – at 3 p.m. today in Baum Stadium. Spoon spent the rest of the 2012 season watching teammates, spent the summer playing baseball in Alaska, and the fall and preseason proving he’s ready to be a big part of the lineup.
Spoon, who is batting third for the Hogs, is hitting .444 with a home run and a team-high six RBIs after his first week on the field. There’s a long way to go in the 56-game regular season, of course, but it hasn’t taken Van Horn long to feel confident in saying Spoon will be a big part of Arkansas’ plans this season.
“I think he solidified himself as a guy who can hit in the middle of the order and that was really good to see,” Van Horn said Sunday.
Spoon — who was a multi-sport star at Van Buren High — said it’s good to hear.
Spoon admitted being told he was going to redshirt in 2012 last winter was difficult at first. He had hopes of making an instant impact with the Razorbacks. But it didn’t take long for Spoon to see the year off as an opportunity to prepare for 2013.
Spoon worked extensively with Arkansas assistant Brian Walker on hitting throughout the season. He got bigger and stronger. And, while the rest of the Razorbacks were in Omaha for the College World Series, he was finally getting work against live pitching in the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in the Alaska Baseball League.
Spoon hit .283 with team highs in home runs (10), doubles (11) and RBIs (33). When the summer was over he was ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the league by PerfectGame.com and No. 5 by Baseball America. He was confident, too.
“The summer was definitely very important,” Spoon said. “They can teach me whatever (at Arkansas). But until I actually put it together and see some live pitching and put it all together, honestly, it’s not really worth much.”
Van Horn said the transformation was obvious when Spoon returned. Teammates saw it, too. Pitcher Brandon Moore, who is Spoon’s roommate and was a high school teammate at Van Buren, said it’s clear the year off was a big help.
“He grew up over the summer,” Moore said. “He got back from Alaska and when he would get out it was just like another at-bat. It wouldn’t bother him at all. Then he’d come up next and hit a missile. Seeing that, the confidence he has in himself right now, I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Spoon collected a hit in each of his first two games against Western Illinois, then broke out in series finale going 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored. He went 3-for-8 with 3 RBIs in Tuesday’s doubleheader, clubbing his first home run.
His play, to date, seems to have helped Spoon become a fan favorite already. The crowd already is chanting “Spooooon” before he steps into the batter’s box. Teammates like Moore have taken to Twitter as well, using the hashtag “Spoonsanity” and asking fans to bring spoons to games after his big week.
It’s all flattering to Spoon. But the freshman — who learned how to be patient after redshirting in 2012 — is taking it all in stride.
“I’m glad I’m feeling comfortable at the plate, but I’m not satisfied,” Spoon said after Tuesday’s doubleheader. “I still missed some opportunities. There’s still a lot of improvement left. But I’m ready and looking forward to what is to come.”
Evansville (1-2) at No. 3 Arkansas (4-1)
When: Friday at 3:05 p.m., Saturday at 1:05 p.m., Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
Where: Baum Stadium in Fayetteville
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Series Record: Arkansas leads 6-2
Starting Pitchers: Arkansas — RHP Ryne Stanek (1-0, 2.25 ERA), RHP Barrett Astin (1-0, 1.80 ERA), RHP Trey Killian (0-0, 0.00 ERA); Evansville — LHP Kyle Freeland (1-0, 1.29 ERA), RHP Sam Johns (0-0, 9.00 ERA), RHP Kyle Lloyd (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Top Hitters: Arkansas - SS Brian Anderson (.467, 2 2B, 4 RBI), 2B Jacob Mahan (.462, 2B, 5 RBI), RF Tyler Spoon (.444, HR, 6 RBI), OF Matt Vinson (.348, 0 HR, 3 RBI); Evansville – CF Kevin Kaczmarksi (.417, 3 2B, RBI), SS Shain Showers (.400, 0 HR, 0 RBI), DH Kyle Pollack (.364, 0 HR, 3 RBI), 1B John Day (.364, 2 2B, 2 RBI)