The 2009 Arkansas baseball season was one of the greatest in the history of the program. Records were broken, the Razorbacks went to Omaha, and the team attained its first No. 1 ranking ever according to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. The team and the season was one to remember.
Zack Cox disagreed. The freshman third baseman and relief pitcher failed to accomplish his goals. When he arrived in Fayetteville, he told hitting coach Todd Butler he was going to hit .400. Cox hit .266 after a back injury limited him early in the year. He fell short on his goal.
So did the Hogs who were knocked out of the College World Series by the eventual national champion LSU Tigers. Arkansas was so close to the dream, yet so far.
Cox developed into a great player by season’s end, but he was so far from the player he dreamed of being. He wanted to make good on his goals as a sophomore.
With the failure fresh in his mind, he was hungrier than ever. Few places are better to satisfy a ball player’s dreams than Cape Cod. That’s where Cox headed for the summer to play for the Cotuit Kettleers.
There, he met Seth Blair who was a standout pitcher on the Arizona State Sun Devils. The two spent the summer together as teammates on the Kettleers. […]
Like Cox, he had more to accomplish. He had bigger dreams and bigger goals to achieve.
Coming off his sophomore campaign, Blair wanted to take the next step. He was the Sun Devils’ No. 3 starter and earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors. Arizona State was bounced by Texas at the CWS to finish third in the country.
With Mike Leake headed to Cincinnati after being selected as the eighth pick in the 2009 MLB draft, ASU needed a new right-handed gun to step up.
Blair wanted to be that guy. He wanted to be the Friday-night guy who took the ball knowing he was going to walk off the mound a winner. He wanted to be a major-league pitcher and he knew he could do it.
Cape Cod would be the first test on his journey to becoming the next great pitcher in the legendary Arizona State program.
When their quests for greatness intersected last summer in Cape Cod, so did their lives. They became good friends and both had big summers to move closer to their dreams.
Cox was the offensive MVP of the Cape Cod All-Star game after collecting two hits and two RBIs.
Mike Roberts, the head coach of Cotuit, described Cox as a pure hitter who drills pitch-after-pitch up the middle. Roberts even compared him to another Cards legend.
“He’s what I’d call a country Enos Slaughter, ” Roberts said in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “He’s a country slasher, and he understands hitting.”
Cox showed how much he grew over the summer all season for Arkansas. He has set the school’s single-season record for singles with 72. His pure stroke has caused experts to call him the “most complete hitter in the game.” Cox needs six more hits to set the record for total hits in a season and with a batting average of .432, he will have another record as the Hogs single-season batting leader.
His gaudy average actually falls short of his preseason goal of .450, so Cards fans can be sure that if Cox signs he’ll be hungry to achieve more. His goals will keep him shooting higher and higher.
Blair’s goals and dreams became realer every time he toed the rubber at Cape Cod. He pitched for Cotuit in 2008 after his freshman year and earned a spot on the All-Star team.
He returned last summer and caught the eye of the Cardinals vice president of player development and scouting, Jeff Luhnow. The Cards drafted Blair with the 46th pick in the draft.
“It’s exciting to get an arm like that,” Luhnow said. “We saw him in the Cape and we sat on him pretty good this year. He has one of the best breaking balls in the draft and his fastball is up to the mid 90s this year.”
His exciting arm was brilliant in 2010 for ASU. He is 11-0 with a 3.20 ERA and was named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year. He has 90 strikeouts compared to only 22 walks. His breaking ball and heater also lead the No. 1 team in the country.
The road to success began in Cape Cod after a disappointing end for these two future Redbirds.
The road to redemption and Omaha is in full swing. And Cox’s and Blair’s paths intersect again. The road will end for one of them as a college player this weekend.
Arkansas and No. 1 Arizona State square off in the Super Regionals in Tempe. It is a best of three series that began Saturday night with Blair on the mound.
Cox and Blair are friends and future teammates but for this weekend, they are enemies. Their competitive personalities trump personal feelings. This will be the last time one of them puts on his college uniform and spends time with his teammates.
It’s the last chance to improve on last year’s failures and bring home a national championship.
Pro ball can wait. The friendship can take a break. The Cardinals gear can stay in boxes.
College is only here for a short window of time. For Cox and Blair, that window closes a little bit every day. Every loss closes it even more.
The next game could be someone’s last.