Perhaps the Razorback baseball team’s most-notable offseason move came with the departure of a highly-profiled assistant coach and the addition of a rival team’s assistant to replace him. With Razorback fans’ hopes at an all-time high heading into the 2018 season, the new hitting coach and recruiting coordinator said he will be ready for the task at hand.
Nate Thompson left Arkansas rival Missouri State to replace former hitting coach Tony Vitello, who left to be the head coach at Tennessee. Thompson has big shoes to fill, as Vitello is regarded as one of the best recruiters in the country, with several of his players currently playing in the MLB.
Thompson replaced longtime coach Brent Thomas at Missouri State, so he doesn’t feel as much pressure about the things he can’t control, he said.
“When I worked at Missouri State, I replaced a guy who had been there 32 years,” Thompson said. “It’s just about being yourself and working hard everyday.”
Thompson was hired from Missouri State on June 16, 2017. He was at Missouri State since 2014. In his first year, he recruited one of the top classes in Bears history, and in 2015 his top recruit was third baseman Jake Burger, who was selected No. 11 in the 2017 MLB Draft. In 2017, Thompson was named the Missouri Valley Conference recruiter of the year.
Thompson had no hesitation about leaving the Bears to coach Arkansas, as Thompson said Arkansas is his dream job.
“This may be the only place in the country that I felt that I would have left my position up there for,” Thompson said.
Arkansas plays Missouri State on April 17, but Thomson doesn’t expect things to be different once the game gets underway, he said.
“They’re going to want a piece of us, and we’re going to want a piece of them, and once that first pitch gets thrown we’re going to focus on competing and getting that W,” Thompson said.
Some people might think a team’s fan base would be perturbed about a coach departing for a rival club. That has not been the case from Missouri State fans, Thompson said.
“It's been all good,” Thompson said. “It’s always been like a family decision, and those people up there were nothing but great to me.”
Arkansas was 2-4 against the Bears in the last two seasons. They played three times in the regional at Baum Stadium last year in which Arkansas won one game in a six-hour thriller, but Missouri State ultimately won the third game, eliminating the Razorbacks from the NCAA tournament.
The Razorbacks will finish up pre-season spring practices in preparation for their first game against the Bucknell Bison at 3 p.m. Feb. 16 at Baum Stadium.