When Razorback fans take their seats at Baum Stadium this coming season, they’ll notice some familiar faces take the mound.
What they won’t recognize is who new pitching coach Wes Johnson is yelling at when he screams “Diesel” or “The Professor” or “Big Hoss.”
Those are just a few of the nicknames Johnson has given different members of his pitching staff and each is as unique to the player as being a Razorback is unique to Arkansas.
“I think almost every pitcher on the staff has a nickname,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “The kids like that.”
Johnson’s prowess as a coach has garnered him national recognition as one of the country’s elite pitching instructors, not only because of his successful training programs, but because of the importance he puts on building relationships with his players.
“The hardest thing to adapt to is coming in and getting to know the guys really fast and do it in a year,” Johnson said.
One way he does that is through handing out personalized nicknames.
“I try to get to know them from the standpoint of what are they lacking from a confidence standpoint,” Johnson said.
Senior pitcher Dominic Taccolini or “Diesel” is just one of the few pitchers who Johnson gave a nickname to.
“You look at a guy like Taccolini who has had some injuries here and so it’s like the first thing I need to do is to let him know we’re going to build him up, like a diesel truck,” Johnson said. “What’s a diesel truck? It’s something that is reliable, that can log a lot of miles and can plow through anything.”
The moniker stuck, even if Johnson is really the only one who comes him “Diesel,” Taccolini said.
“He’s really full of energy so he screams it out loud anytime I walk into a room and he does it to other people too,” Taccolini said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Van Horn has even supported the name change.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard (Johnson) call (Taccolini) Dom,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know why but I like it.”
Johnson wasted no time in dishing out the tags. Within the first week of him being a part of the program, he started to give people names, sophomore pitcher Isaiah Campbell said.
Campbell got one of his own too.
“He gave me the name ‘The Professor’ because of my glasses and he because he said, ‘Every time you go out on the mound, you’re going to take kids to class,’” Campbell said.
Some of the other names include: Blaine Knight being called the “The Dark Night” after the Batman series, Jake Reindl going as the “Hammer,” Weston Rogers being named after “Big Hoss” from the 1960’s show “Bonanza” and Anthony Dahl also known as “The Assassin.”
Another sophomore Barrett Loeske goes by “Drill Bit.”
“I need him to be able to drill through the lineup late in the game,” Johnson said. “He can just put holes in bats.”
Not all the pitchers have nicknames right now, but they want them, Johnson said.
The names are just one way Johnson has been attempting to instill a sense of assurance in his pitchers.
“He’s big on body language and having confidence in yourself,” Campbell said. “He doesn’t tolerate bad body language. If you show it, he’ll get after you.”
Taccolini said Johnson would rather a player have a poor pitch with good intent than a well-placed pitch without it.
“He’s very positive,” Taccolini said. “He looks at any outing you have and points out the positives. He still looks at the negatives, but the positives really stick out. He makes you have more confidence in yourself.”
Johnson said the nicknames are just a small part of a larger effort to give players the individual attention they need to play their best.
“You got to get to know your players, you got to see where their inefficiencies are and you got to coach individually,” Johnson said. “It depends on what they need. That’s one of the things a coach has to do is have a hand on the pulse of the team.”