For Razorback fans, the best story of 2009 took place in Baum Stadium. From day one of the season—a day that ended with Andrew Darr blasting a walk-off, two-run home run in the bottom of the tenth minutes after robbing a home run in the top of the inning—it was clear that it would be a season of amazing moments, each one more incredible than the last. Several Razorbacks notched game-winning hits, game-saving defensive plays or clutch pitching performances during the course of the season. Andrew Darr even got back in the act in June, trumping everything in the season up to that point when he hit a game winning double in Tallahassee that sent the Hogs to Omaha.
Darr’s double, too, was destined to be surpassed.
If the 2009 Razorbacks were a movie, a subplot would wrap around neatly Brett Eibner, probably better than it would on any other player. Without question one of the most talented players on the roster, Eibner struggled for most of the season while his team surged up the polls. His struggles were periodically relieved with brief flashes of greatness, and he added his signature to several key wins. He delivered a game winning triple against Western Illinois; dominated Missouri State twice, both on the mound and at the plate; hit two home runs and drew a walk-off base on balls against Oklahoma; and in the game perhaps most indicative of his talent, threw a complete game 1-hit shutout of Georgia in Athens in which he struck out 12 Bulldogs.
Each of these moments was more than a victory, it was hope that Eibner’s talent would be finally turned all the way on, that his contributions would be more consistently available. But his struggles always returned—both at the plate and on the mound—and he found himself watching from the bench more than he was used to. In the game that would end on Darr’s double in the Super Regional against Florida State, it began about Brett Eibner, who pitched brilliantly for 4+ innings and entered the fifth inning in control, and with a 1-1 tie. But he broke down there and allowed a Seminole rally. But Darr came through in the final frame with his double, and gave Eibner another chance at redemption.
A week later, facing elimination from the College World Series, Eibner stepped to the plate against Virginia’s closer, down two runs, with Zack Cox on first and two outs on the scoreboard. And in that moment, Eibner was who the Hogs were: down, but not out, and capable at any moment of redefining the game. Eibner’s blast into the left field stands at Rosenblatt Stadium will be remembered as THE defining and lasting moment of a season of defining moments. In Chuck Barrett’s words: “It has been one frustrating season for Brett Eibner, and oh, how he just made amends.”
And for Eibner, it might just be a step towards redemption—a step towards putting a season, where he hit .231 at the plate and lost as many games as he won on the mound, behind him. A step towards becoming the star player that comes through for his teammates consistently instead of a great player that produces occasionally.
There is no doubt that Brett Eibner has the talent to be an elite SEC player. He showed enough of it in high school to be a fourth round draft pick, he showed it in his freshman season where he led the Hogs in RBI and hit near .300. And he even showed it last year, in his moments.
Dave Van Horn builds talented, deep teams. The kinds of teams where every position is a battle and unexpected stars are created. And with those kinds of teams it is difficult to say that one player is the key. But if anybody is the key to the 2010 team, it is Brett Eibner. The Hogs need the best Brett Eibner that they can get. They need his speed, range and arm in centerfield, they need his veteran presence on the mound, and they need his right-handed bat in the middle of the order, splitting the two lefty power hitters Andy Wilkins and Zack Cox.
In the story that was the 2009 season, Brett Eibner was a supporting character, playing out his own subplot, one about disappointment and redemption. The success of the 2010 Hogs season could depend in a large part on Brett Eibner playing a lead role.