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HawgBeat’s coverage of the Diamond Hogs’ Road to Omaha is brought to you by CJ’s Butcher Boy Burgers, which has locations in Fayetteville and Russellville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Watching the game from his condo in Nashville, Brady Toops had flashbacks when Charlie Welch sent a packed Baum-Walker Stadium into pandemonium with a three-run home run Monday night.
The swing gave the Razorbacks a 6-2 lead over Nebraska and, coming in the eighth inning, essentially punched their ticket to the super regional round of the NCAA Tournament.
It wasn’t exactly the same situation as Toops’ legendary grand slam, which – 17 years and 1 day earlier – helped Arkansas stave off elimination against Wichita State in the 2004 Fayetteville Regional, but the former catcher immediately felt a connection to Welch.
“I wasn’t there, but to see the energy in that stadium and even to hear the noise when that ball was hit, it took me back 2004, took me back to the grand slam,” Toops said. “It definitely reminded me of 2004 as far as Hog fans expecting a big moment – a big moment in a big game.
“I think the similarities of it was just the build up and the electricity and then the payoff when you see the ball go over the fence. It’s those kind of moments that have electrified Hog fans and I think, ultimately, has really been a huge part of building the University of Arkansas program since its inception.”
With Arkansas now on the verge of a third straight trip to the College World Series, Toops will be back at Baum-Walker Stadium this weekend.
Although he’s made it back for a series every couple of years or so, it will be the first time Toops will be in Fayetteville for the postseason – either a regional or super regional – since his playing days ended.
The trip will actually be his second time seeing this year’s team in person, as he and former teammate Jason Reynolds – who also lives in the Nashville area – made the less than three-hour drive east to Knoxville for the Tennessee series last month.
It was while watching the top-ranked Razorbacks take two of three from the top-five Volunteers that Toops told another former teammate – current director of operations Clay Goodwin – that he’d be in Fayetteville for the postseason.
“I was hanging with Clay Goodwin…and I just said, ‘Dude, I’m going to find a way to get to Baum in the postseason run,’” Toops said. “I couldn’t make it for regionals and I just said, ‘Hey, if they make it to supers, I’m coming.’”
He has already been in touch with several of his teammates on that 2004 team, which won the SEC and made it to Omaha in Dave Van Horn’s season season as head coach, and plans to have a reunion of sorts, with Scott Hode in charge of finding him tickets.
Known by many for his music career, which sent him all over the country and to various parts of the world over the span of a decade, Toops recently hit pause on that path and started reevaluating what he wanted to do with his life.
“I kind of burned out a couple years ago at just the pace of life I was going at and kind of went on a journey to figure out how to come back to myself and figure out what are the tools and resources that I need, that I hadn’t been taught, in order to just live with a deeper sense of well-being, purpose, connection,” Toops said. “In that process, I came across a number of incredible experts that taught me various tools and resources to thrive on an emotional level.”
That is how Soul Games was born. Talking with a friend about a year and a half ago, Toops co-founded the program that he described as a 10-week journey “exploring various modalities with world-class experts to increase well-being on a wholistic level.”
“It’s been really incredible,” Toops said of the program, which has a track for men and women. “It feels deeply purposeful and I feel like I’m serving humanity in a deep way.”
Whether it was during his time as a musician or since he started his new venture, Arkansas baseball has been a constant for Toops, who has high hopes for this year’s team.
“I’m just really stoked for this team,” Toops said. “They’re incredible. They do everything. They’re probably the most stacked team I’ve ever seen come through the University of Arkansas.”