FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn hoped to have catcher Casey Opitz back for his senior season, but wasn’t too optimistic figuring he would get drafted by some professional team.
When that did happen, Van Horn certainly welcomed Opitz back, but admittedly with somewhat mixed emotions.
“Obviously Optiz is as good as it gets in the country,” Van Horn said. “He’s a man among boys right now. We could play him at third, second. The guy is just a great baseball player. Seems to be getting better with the bat. I think credit to him. He pretty much got a gut punch when he didn’t get drafted in the first five rounds. I felt horrible for him. I told him we were all mixed emotions. We wanted him back, but we wanted him for him personally to have that opportunity to sign. We’re just so happy he’s here.
“We just hope there’s a season and he’s a high, high pick. He can lead us into something special in ’21 because he’s definitely our leader on the field and in that locker room. I think everyone sees it and knows it, but you know I love his attitude he has been good. He could have come back in here and been, ‘poor ole me, I shouldn’t be here.’ He hadn’t been that way at all. Great to see, same ole Casey. Friendly, leading and been fun.”
As a junior in 14 seasons in 2020, Opitz hit .302 with a home run while knocking in 11 runs with a slugging percentage of .509. His handling of the pitching staff is considered second to none. Opitz is part of the Red team that will begin the fall series on Friday. While no fans are allowed there’s good news beginning with Sunday’s game. The final six games will be streamed live on the SECN+.
“I think it’s really big,” Van Horn said. “I’m just really happy that this is all happening, really for the parents because the parents haven’t been able to come around and watch their sons play. It’s just different. Everything’s different right now. They’ll get an opportunity to tune in. For the most part, with the teams divided up, position player wise, they’re going to be on the field. They’ll get to see some of that. I think the kids are excited about it so that family and friends can watch them play a little bit.
“Then just for our program, you get an opportunity to get some cameras out here and see the field and this new facility that’s going up, it’s incredible, and how it’s changed the look of the ballpark. And probably even how the ballpark plays a little bit. With certain winds being knocked down, balls are jumping out of the park probably better than ever now. When the wind’s not blowing, it’s flying pretty good, but even on a day when it’s blowing in, they can still drive that ball through that wind with that building blocking it as tall as it is. It’s as tall as our scoreboard and it’s a really good look. I just think exposure, it’s a good thing for us.”
Game – Date – Time – Starting Pitchers (Red vs. Black)
Game 1 – Friday, Oct. 16 – 3 p.m. – LHP Caden Monke vs. RHP Connor Noland
Game 2 – Sunday, Oct. 18 – 1 p.m. on SECN+ – RHP Kole Ramage vs. RHP Caleb Bolden
Game 3 – Monday, Oct. 19 – 3 p.m. on SECN+ – RHP Zebulon Vermillion vs. LHP Patrick Wicklander
Game 4 – Wednesday, Oct. 21 – 3 p.m. on SECN+ – RHP Blake Adams vs. RHP Jaxon Wiggins
Game 5 – Friday, Oct. 23 – 3 p.m. on SECN+ – LHP Lael Lockhart vs. RHP Will McEntire
Game 6 – Saturday, Oct. 24 – 1 p.m. on SECN+ – TBA vs. TBA
Game 7 – Sunday, Oct. 25 – 1 p.m. on SECN+ – TBA vs. TBA