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CLAY HENRY: Grand slam still one of Top 3 Razorback moments

What were your biggest moments in Razorbacks’ history? Clay Henry also lists Brady Toops’ memorable shot and impact to program.

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What are the three greatest moments in Arkansas Razorbacks history and where were you?

For me, it’s simple.

No. 1: It’s the Ken Hatfield punt return against No. 1 Texas in 1964. That play — and the 2-point stop at the end of the game — led to a 14-13 victory and would send the Hogs to the national title.

No. 2: The Scotty Thurman shot that led to the 1994 national title in basketball.

No. 3: The Brady Toops grand slam to rally the Hogs to an improbable 11-9 victory in the 2004 Fayetteville Regional.

The Toops heart stopping drive – 20 years ago from this coming weekend — did not win a national title, but it sparked the Arkansas baseball program into a fan favorite and began coach Dave Van Horn’s run to national prominence. It’s the single biggest moment for some who are baseball centric.

I’m going to answer the second question in the lead paragraph. I know exactly where I was and what I was doing for all three. They are unforgettable.

For the Hatfield punt return, I was laying on the floor with my three brothers at 36 Westmont Circle in Meadowcliff. That’s a southwest Little Rock neighborhood. My grandmother was in charge with my parents both in Austin for the game.

At game’s end, she led us out of the house in our pajamas to honk horns, like every Razorbacks fan around the state. It was an incredible experience. Our neighborhood was crazy. I wouldn’t say people were dancing in the street, but they all were honking their car horns in their driveway. (There are no garages in Meadowcliff, only carports.)

Of course, as editor of Hawgs Illustrated, I was at Charlotte covering the national title game in 1994. I was sitting in the media room watching a big screen because my dad and I decided at halftime he couldn’t see from the nosebleed section. I left my media seat at courtside to watch with him in the big media room. We were the only ones there.

After the shot splashed good, my father said, “Let’s go courtside. No one is going to stop us.” We were standing under the Arkansas basket as the game ended and the team and coaches celebrated a few feet away.

As Arkansas fans launched a Hog Call just behind us, my father said, “Listen, that’s the cash registers ringing for Hawgs Illustrated.” A struggling 2-year-old magazine was suddenly a sure thing to prosper. My dad knew it.

Where I sat for the Toops slam is way different. I wasn’t there. In fact, I was in a far away place from Arkansas sports, celebrating the sale of Hawgs Illustrated to Stephens Media, a trip gifted by close friends Steve and Christie Bardwell. They flew us in their company plane to their resort home in the mountains near Asheville, N.C.

The trip had been planed two months before in the days just after the passing of my father and the sale of the magazine. Yes, it was planned for the end of baseball season, but no one could have predicted there would be meaningful baseball played that weekend. The Hogs were picked 11th in the 12-team league and last in the SEC West.

Oh, that was before anyone knew Van Horn had the magic touch. Never mind that he’d done it at Nebraska. His teams there had twice gone to the College World Series and he’d take the Hogs back in 2004.

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Reunion of 2004 team in 2024 (Arkansas Communications)

Those 2004 Hogs went 45-24 and shared the league title with Georgia at 19-11. They swept LSU in Baton Rouge on April 9-11 to signal something special was coming. Those victories were 11-8, 11-10 and 7-5.

They clinched the outright SEC West title and a share of the overall crown with a 15-3 victory over Auburn. That led to the first of three dog piles at Baum Stadium. There would be a second when the Hogs won the last two games of the regional over Wichita State, the first after the Toops slam.

But I wasn’t there. I was sitting atop a mountain on a lounge deck waiting for our dinner reservations. I had my first cell phone capable of texts. I didn’t know how to use it, but my daughter decided I should receive one, my first.

Sarah was at Baum, in our seats. We’d talked to her by phone from our resort room 15 minutes earlier. The Hogs seemed to be going quietly against Wichita State after fighting through the loser’s bracket.

Then, it came. Beep, beep, beep. I opened the Motorola flip phone to read: Toops has hit a grand slam. The Hogs are not done yet!!!!

I tried to phone Sarah. But she didn’t hear the ring. It wasn’t until after dinner we learned the Hogs had won the first game, then beat Wichita State again. It was beyond cool on a cool sweet night in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina.

We all have heard Chuck Barrett’s radio call of that famous home run. He’s heard it over 100 times, each time wishing he’d called it slightly different. But he said he had one thing right: the genuine joy and disbelief in his voice. That comes through each time I’ve heard it.

“You can’t believe how many times people have stopped me to tell me about where they were when they were listening,” Barrett said. “You are right, it’s like the Hatfield punt return and the Thurman 3-pointer. You know where you were and you won’t ever forget hearing the call.

“I have to admit that when I hear (my) call, I don’t listen closely. It’s not about a call, it’s about a great moment.

“As a broadcaster, I made mistakes in that call. I can tell you what was wrong, wrong, wrong. But what is right is that I didn’t believe what I was seeing and that came through in my voice.”

The disbelief came because of the way the game turned around and it seemed at the start of the Toops hit that it was a routine fly ball and would be the third out.

“I don’t think anyone in the park thought it was going out,” Barrett said. “As far as my call, I truly enjoy hearing people tell me about hearing it and where they were listening. I don’t tell them I thought I screwed it up.”

Barrett’s thoughts on that sliced, lightly-hit drive from Toops is what many of the players on that 2004 team thought as they watched it. They talked about it last month for a reunion of their team for the Florida series. There were 27 from that team who returned to Fayetteville along with all of the coaches.

Of course, the Toops homer was front and center in all of their conversations, said Scott Hode. The shortstop was on deck when the ball cleared the left field wall and sent Baum crazy.

“I guess what I’d say first, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Hode said. “We had one strike left, one out left when Brady hit it.

“The feeling? We are still alive.”

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Of course, the Hogs still had to win another game. After getting Wichita State out in the bottom of the ninth for an 11-9 victory, they won the nightcap, 4-3.

“We were the visiting team and we had the first base dugout,” Hode said. “So as the on deck batter, I had a view straight in front of me of the home run. It started out to left center and started slicing and the wind got it. I thought it was just a fly ball and suddenly it was gone.

“It was incredible. I still almost cry when I think about it. I can still see it. I can still feel it. I can hear the roar of the crowd. I know what I was thinking; we’ve got the lead.”

What’s incredible is the way his kids talk about it now. He’s got three daughters, including a 14-year-old stepdaughter who has friends playing travel ball.

“She says all of the boys are excited when they learn I’m her dad,” Hode said. “They somehow know about what our team did. The boys tell my daughter that I’m famous or that I’m their favorite Razorback.”

It’s because their parents were likely at the game, or listening to Chuck’s call.

“We were on the field for the reunion,” Hode said. “I looked in the stands and saw my daughters. They were screaming, ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy.’ It was cool.”

Hode chuckles about what might have been had Toops hit a single and the Hogs scored one run, but still trailed. He would have been on the spot to keep the game alive and he was deep in a slump.

“It was bad,” said Hode, the only All-SEC player from that team. “It was probably the worst (slump) of my career. Now I came out of it against Florida State in the super the next weekend. But that first weekend of the tournament, I couldn’t have hit water if I fell out of a boat.”

His ears were ringing as he stepped into the batter’s box after the Toops slam. The crowd was still on its feet and in a roar.

“I’m lucky I even made contact,” Hode said. “I hit a weak pop out to center.”

No one remembers that. And, no one talked about it at the reunion.

“The reunion was so cool,” Hode said. “Some of those guys I had not seen for 20 years. We hugged. We told stories.

“Toops came back. He’s the same fun-loving free spirit. He’s one of the best humans on the planet. He’s still in Nashville playing his guitar. You couldn’t have a better person do something like that.

“What I say about Toops, he’s a God-loving talent. He made a lot of plays for us that year.”

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One of the top two Toops plays came on defense during the sweep at LSU.

“Blake Parker threw out two runners at home,” Hode said. “It was the game we went to extra innings. Both throws were in the dirt and Toops scooped them both. They were phenomenal plays. He was a great catcher.”

What do those guys talk about?

“The same thing everyone else talks about, how many pitches Charley Boyce threw that weekend,” Hode said. “He was incredible.

“But we will always talk about the Toops grand slam every time we get together. We all know what it meant to our program, getting Coach Van Horn started.

“We talk about the sweep at LSU. We also talk about getting swept at Pan American and being the 11th pick in the preseason.

“The sweep at LSU was so much fun. We had their fans booing their team. Coach Van Horn brought that up when he talked at our reunion. We also talk about how our crowds exploded that year and we had 5,000 at games and the big tailgates. It all started then.”

It also was about finishing the Norm DeBriyn era right.

“We played for coach Van Horn,” Hode said. “But a lot of guys on that team were signed by Coach D. To win the SEC was awesome. I think playing for Coach D and then for coach Van Horn taught me how to handle life. It set me up for life.

“I’m getting chills right now talking about it on the phone. Chills.

“Our fans just kept coming and the crowds kept getting bigger in ’04. I still look at it as such a great blessing. Everything about that season is still so clear in my mind.

“Coach Van Horn brought up all the 1-run games we won that season. He talked about that Florida series at the start of the SEC. We got kicked on Friday night and he told us he was going to let the old guys play again on Saturday, but if it didn’t go good, the young guys would get their chances.”

Of course, the old guys won and they kept winning until they were in Omaha.

“Yeah, we got three dog piles on our own field,” Hode said. “Not many can say that. I remember them clearly.”

I’d forgotten the three dog piles, but I know where I was when Brady Toops hit the grand slam.

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