Opitz, Kopps voted team captains for 2020
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will have two veteran team captains for the upcoming 2020 season.
Catcher Casey Opitz and right-handed pitcher Kevin Kopps were chosen for the honor by their teammates in a vote last month.
“That was probably one of the biggest achievements I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Opitz said. “The accolades and stuff is cool, going to the College World Series is really cool, especially doing it twice, but just having the respect of my teammates and earning that through my three years here, that was really special to me.”
Both players are first-time captains, but head coach Dave Van Horn said throughout last season that Opitz emerged as a de facto captain because of the way he led the team.
Although he hit just .243 with three home runs and 33 RBIs as the full-time starter in 2019, Opitz delivered several clutch hits and was one of the best defensive catchers in the country. He threw out 22 of 46 potential base stealers, allowed only two passed balls and posted an impressive .992 fielding percentage.
Now a junior, Opitz is a preseason third-team All-America selection by Baseball America, with the publication also giving him the distinction of having the best arm for a catcher.
“Last year I kind of took on that (captain) role, just because I’m a catcher and that’s kind of what you need,” Opitz said. “You need that field general out there.
“That’s what I wanted to be, that’s the kind of person I am. That’s the kind of player I’ve always been. I’m going to lead first and do what other guys need me to do.”
Kopps is entering his fifth season with the Razorbacks, a journey that started by redshirting as a freshman and included missing the 2018 season because of Tommy John surgery.
He was a key reliever on last year’s staff, posting a 3.89 ERA in 41 2/3 innings across a team-high 30 appearances, but is expected to compete for the third spot in Arkansas’ weekend rotation this season.
Not a man of many words, Kopps’ role as a captain won’t be quite the same as that of Opitz.
“I just keep doing what I do, just leading by example I think,” Kopps said. “I think it’s just doing what you’re supposed to do and people look up to you.”
While Van Horn is the unquestioned leader of the program, going into 18th season at the helm, but - in addition to being key players on the field - both Opitz and Kopps will be asked to keep the team on track during rough stretches.
In a sport like baseball, which has 56 regular-season game before the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, losses will happen - sometimes in bunches - so that is an important role for a team with College World Series expectations.
“I'm going to do what I did last year,” Opitz said. “I'm going to kind of lead the guys on the field. I'm going to be the positive energy guy when we're not going good because there is going to be those times in the season when we're not going good.
“It happens to every team every year. It's just kind of on me to make sure the guys are staying focused on what we've got and what we're trying to do, staying positive and just ride it out.”
The Razorbacks begin their road back to Omaha on Feb. 14, when they welcome Eastern Illinois to Baum-Walker Stadium for a three-game series. First pitch of Game 1 is scheduled for 3 p.m.